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Should've Been Home Yesterday

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Nolan wakes up every ten minutes from a different nightmare--the barn burning down, getting lost in the woods behind the field, a fucking plague melting all the little potatoes and strawberries Kevin planted--and then, when the sky outside his window goes from black to grey, he gets out of bed.

He pulls on a big hoodie, because this ancient house is so cold all the time that he has to, like, wear socks and pants to bed every night, and stumbles into the hallway between the bedrooms. Kevin’s door is shut and when Nolan stops in front of it, he can hear him snoring. 

Nolan rakes a hand through his hair and shakes out a breath. He wants to be asleep. He wants to wake Kevin up so Kevin can look at him and know he’s feeling fucked up and cook him bacon and talk about stupid shit until Nolan’s barely feeling the tension in his shoulders and the headache he has from clenching his teeth all night. 

Kevin’s spent the whole six weeks since they skipped out on the end of their lease back in Philly acting like everything’s totally perfect and not like they’re so obviously fucked that everyone in town's gotta be laughing at them. Like he somehow still hasn’t realized that moving down to this middle of nowhere town on some stupid whim because Nolan was depressed and Kevin was, whatever, bored probably, was a big fucking mistake. 

Nolan heaves a sigh outside the door, listens for a moment, and when that doesn’t wake Kevin up, he allows himself a smaller, more private sigh.

There’s nothing to do. Or, there’s a lot that needs doing, but neither of them are actually farmers, so Nolan can’t do anything about any of it, especially at ass o’clock before the sun has even risen. He considers the options he does have. The floorboards a few feet over at the top of the stairs might creak loud enough to wake Kevin up, but only if Nolan tries, like, kinda hard. 

He dodges the loose board, heads downstairs, and lets himself out onto the back porch.   

The overgrown scraggle of the field behind the house stretches all the way back to a line of trees blurred out by a low layer of fog and then silhouette mountains in the distance. Their first night in the little farmhouse, Nolan and Kevin set up two camp chairs and sat out here. Kevin kept saying how pretty it was over and over, and Nolan had just grunted back at him, but he agreed. 

He kicks one of the chairs up closer to the porch railing, dimly lit by a single yellowish bulb, and sits and looks at the place they both put so much of their lives on the line for. Beyond Kevin’s grandfather’s garden--Kevin’s now, Nolan corrects himself--the big field is surrounded by an aging wooden fence. It doesn’t really keep anything out or in: Nolan had stepped through at least three separate rotted out gaps when he hiked out to dig through the little sheds dotting the back of the field, maybe as old as the house and definitely less cared for. He can see the crooked, dark shapes of the sheds from here, against a sky that’s still mostly grey with just a little glow of orange right by the horizon. 

It’s cold and wet and quiet; still air making Nolan’s cheeks flush pink and warm. 

He slumps down, curls his shoulders in and shoves his hands in the front pocket of his hoodie, and watches.

It’s excruciating. Like, it takes forever--just slowly lightening, the orange spreading out and getting watered down to yellow, the sky above it still purpley grey. 

Nolan gets cold, and his socks get wet from the damp wooden boards of the porch, so he goes back inside for a second. Grabs his blanket and his phone, puts on the big chunky workboots Kevin bought him, listens at Kevin’s door again. He’s still snoring. 

When he goes back out the sky’s barely different. There’s more clouds, maybe. 

He starts up a playlist and shoves his phone in his pocket. Wraps his hands around it and takes a deep breath and tries to do shit from the meditation videos he watches sometimes when he’s so stressed out of his mind he doesn’t know what else to do. Tries to breathe and be present and feel his body: a little achy from the terrible mattress that came with the house--Kevin’s grandma’s old bed, like Nolan wanted to know that--and a lowkey headache, but no migraine. Kind of jittery from the last dregs of the adrenaline that woke him over and over. Cold, and a little grimy, because he was bad at showering even in Philly, and now out here, with metallic tasting water that feels like it slips over his skin without getting him wet and a showerhead he has to bend over to get his head under, he’s even worse about it. 

He forces his eyes to skip over the field that’s, like, exclusively weeds, and glares instead at the faint edge of the mountains. Watches as the sky lightens all over and the strip of color at the horizon gets brighter, yellow and pink, and fades again. Then, finally, the little white ball of the sun starts to slip up over the mountaintops in the distance.

He breathes. 

It’s a shitty farm, in a shitty town. He’s spent years growing out of a town almost identical to this one, except for the local accent--an hour out of Winnipeg, surrounded by farms and fields that Nolan saw all the time and knew nothing about, full of people who Nolan felt so different from it hurt. He’d left the second he got the chance; pretended he didn’t miss it every day since. 

Just like last time, there’s no way it’s gonna work out how Nolan wants it to. 

There’s no way he’s gonna get to keep this--land stretched out in front of him, sun slowly rising, feeling like he’s the only one in the world who’s watching this moment unfold. A town that’s sleepy and slow and quiet and calm.

He’s supposed to have moved on from wanting this kind of thing. 

When he and Kevin had pulled up to the farm a month and a half ago, Nolan looked out over it and saw something that felt--peaceful, or whatever. Settled. Something that made him feel at home and whole, in this way he hadn’t in years. That felt right with every blink and breath. 

He can already see the way everything’s going to spin out: his savings will run out, and then Kevin’s will. None of the vegetables Kevin plants will come up, because they know fucking nothing about growing shit. They’ll pack up, and move back to another high rise in downtown Philadelphia, and Nolan will beg for his job back, and they’ll probably fucking give it to him. Kevin’s cousin will sell this place, and someone who actually knows how to turn it back into a farm will buy it.

The screen door beside him creaks open and he looks over to see Kevin, hair wild, big flannel blanket wrapped around his shoulders, eyes wide but bleary. 

“Morning, Patty,” he mumbles, dropping himself into the other chair with a big sleepy yawn. 

“Morning,” Nolan says. 

Kevin stretches his legs out in front of him and tilts his head toward the sky. Nolan turns back to it, tries to soak it in as much as he can. When his phone sings the last soft notes of the playlist he'd put on earlier, Nolan lets the silence stretch around them. He and Kevin listen to the quiet sounds of the morning until it's all the way light out. 

 

***

 

They moved to the farm the second week of February.

It was maybe five degrees warmer than it had been in Philly, but it still felt way too cold to be getting ready to start growing anything; still felt freezing when they had to be outside all fucking day. 

Kevin had picked up coats from the little farm supply store in town, along with gloves and seed packets and bags of fertilizer that made his car smell terrible for days. Nolan spent a week shivering inside his denim jacket and refusing to wear the huge, ugly brown Carhartt, but all he got for that was a runny nose and Kevin laughing at him. 

So, fuck it. He let the cold win, and started wearing the coat that hung next to Kevin’s in the closet by the back door. 

Charming the locals was Kevin’s job anyway. Like, who the fuck was Nolan trying to look good for? He was never going to be Kevin, all rustic and effortless, swapping slacks for jeans a little too expensive for the amount of dirt he was wiping on them; dressing how a kid from Boston thought a farmer was supposed to dress, nothing like the actual farmers Nolan'd seen around town all the time growing up.  

Even though he wasn’t suddenly, like, vibing with the whole farm thing the way Kevin was, Nolan tried to stay hopeful. 

He took his morning runs around the perimeter of their 20 acres, looping it five times to get his three miles in. He tried to take it in as he ran. To, like, get a feel for it; start to know it. 

The back of the property was lined with forest, and then, in the distance, a low line of mountains--not like the four whole mountains he’d grown up knowing were in Manitoba, but an actual range. The land the farm was on sloped and rolled in little hills and shallow valleys, too, and in one of the dips up by the house there was a pond that looked maybe big enough to have a few fish, but was icy around the edges, so Nolan hadn’t bothered to check it out yet. All the way in the back, where their big pasture bled into the woods, a tiny creek cut across a corner of the property.

The farm was, like, pretty, even if the grass was long and there were weeds all over. The bleary sunrise over the mountains and the smell of the fresh water of the creek and the miles and miles of land that Nolan could run on without seeing a single other person distracted him for a while, so he didn’t start really feeling fucked until March, when Kevin came back from a trip to the feed store, where apparently he’d had a long conversation with two old farmers from the area, and said it was time to start planting. 

Kevin and Nolan had spent the first month on the farm cleaning the house up and working together out in the gardens behind it, tilling and putting down new soil and pulling out rocks and sticks and weeds, pretty basic gardening shit.

But when it came time to actually put the seeds down, suddenly Kevin started getting all, like, hippie about it--precisely raking rows into the dirt, poking finger sized holes into it and dropping strawberry seeds into them one at a time, quiet and calm as Nolan’d ever seen him. Nolan left him to his weird little plant thing and tried to find his own shit to do.

He knew things up by the house were pretty taken care of--the little fields on either side of the driveway were in decent shape, other than the grass being really tall. The fence that lined the road and the beginning of the driveway seemed solid, and he and Kevin had finally gotten the raised beds and garden plot all evened out and cleaned up.

So on the first day of Kevin’s planting, Nolan picked his way across the overgrown pasture, blanketed with a layer of almost waist-high dry, brittle grass that was poked through with these--Nolan didn’t know what. Something with weird fuzzy purple leaves that were impossible to rip out of the ground the way they’d done with the smaller weeds in the garden plot. He hiked back toward the fence that circled the big field and separated it from the treeline.

He’d run past but never really looked at it, and when he started walking the fence and slapping at posts, he realized how, like, really not great it was. 

Back here, out of view of the road, the only thing that had been maintained was the little path around the property line that he followed most mornings.

The fence was more of a dotted line than a solid one; its boards and posts rotted through in some places and just broken in others. There were supposed to be two horizontal boards on each little section of the fence, but in most places, at least one of them was broken off. 

Nolan went up to the house and grabbed a hammer and some long, mostly not rusted nails. He fucked around with the fence for, like, three fucking hours--hammering nails in and propping boards up and pulling off wood that was totally rotted--before he realized he didn’t know shit about what could or couldn’t be salvaged, or how to put the fence back together without just pounding in a ton of nails until something stuck--and said fuck it--actually, like, screamed “Fuck it,” because who was around to fucking hear him?--and stomped back to the house. 

He was a bitch to Kevin at dinner, but Kevin just rolled with it, always too nice and easy. 

Nolan just-- He didn’t like not knowing how to do shit. Couldn’t stand the feeling of pounding a nail in at what he thought was the right angle and then letting go of the horizontal board of the fence only to have it drop back down again. It was, like, embarrassing, even if Kevin was the only one around for miles and he was probably neck deep in his fucking dirt he was so in love with and didn’t even notice Nolan being useless. 

 

The next morning, he figured he’d try to look through the sheds. It would be easy, probably, and maybe he’d find a new, like, piece of fence or a drill or something. 

Him and Kevin had just barely dug into one shed right up by the house when they first got here, just enough to pull out shovels and a wheelbarrow and shit, but there were three more unopened ones tucked in the back of the field, right up under the trees that filled up the last third of the land. 

Nolan ducked under the baby trees that had apparently taken the state of the fence as permission to expand into the field. One of the sheds was small and had a gate instead of a door. Weeds were growing in the dirt floor of it, and the whole thing just felt like a place where he’d get bitten by a raccoon and catch rabies or some shit, so he left it the fuck alone. 

The other two buildings were a bit bigger and actually shut off from the outside. Nolan had to really put his weight into the door of the biggest one to open it. Inside, it was dim enough that he had to pull out his phone and turn on the flashlight to see that all around the walls were piles of just--stuff. Taking up the center of the room was a flat trailer Kevin’s little car would never be able to pull, with a riding lawn mower loaded up onto it. Convenient, but the mower was missing an entire wheel, so actually, not really useful at all.

Nolan heaved a sigh, kicked at a barely inflated tire of the trailer, and started to dig through the, like, sixty years of farm junk piled up all over in the shed--rusty tools, weird old glass plates, a stack of wood that seemed like maybe the same type the fence was made of, and a fucking scythe.

He didn’t know what to do with any of it.

Well, he sort of felt like he knew how to use a scythe, maybe. Like a weird hockey stick where the puck was grass, probably. But it was rusty and dangerous looking and heavy, and by the time Nolan finished sorting all the shit inside the shed into totally useless piles--stuff he didn’t know what to do with, stuff he didn’t even know the name of, stuff that didn’t seem like it belonged in a farm shed but what did he know--it was already getting dark out, and the iron smell of all the old tools was giving him a headache, so Nolan left it for another day and trudged back up to the house, feeling like he’d wasted more than just the last several hours. 

 

Nolan thought he was pretty decent at getting up and slogging through the same bullshit day after day. He had to be, with all the practice he’d gotten in his three years at his last job in Philly, writing press release after boring press release about all the shit he’d rather be doing himself. 

The next morning, he went on his run, knowing he’d spend another day regretting leaving the job he was good at, even if it sucked.

He looked out across the overgrown fields as he ran, and when he passed the hell shed, he thought about the lawn mower. He’d never repaired something like that before and wondered how much it might cost to have someone who actually knew what they were doing fix it--who fuckin’ knows, he’d never had to ask that before. Nolan lapped past the shed again, and thought about the scythe instead. Right as he swung back up toward the house, his watch buzzed an alert at him, marking the end of his three miles.

He lapped the shed again; lapped it again.

When Nolan’s watch buzzed an additional mile, he slowed to a walk, and then turned and stepped through a gap in the fence. Everything in the shed was exactly where he left it, and this time Nolan didn’t need a flashlight to dodge around all the piles of probably-garbage. He lifted the scythe down off its hook on the wall and took it back outside into the light.

The scythe’s blade was kinda rusty and maybe a little dull, but when Nolan pressed it into a broken bit of fence, it still left a mark in the wood. There were two little handles on the big, weirdly curved post the blade was attached to, and when he tried to hold it kind of like he would a hockey stick, Nolan realized with a sinking feeling that he may have known less about scythes than he did about fences.

Nolan flipped the scythe around, tried holding it in a different grip, and then swung it through the tall grass near the shed. A few of the grass blades snapped--but that seemed to be more about how dry and dead it was than how well Nolan had done--and the rest just bent under the scythe and popped back up. Frustrated, he whacked at the grass harder, flipped the scythe back around, whacked again. Same result: a tiny patch of grass that was roughly broken about a foot off the ground, and a huge field that would never get mown.

He slammed his way back into the shed, dropped the scythe in a pile of other useless shit, and stomped back to the farmhouse.

 

Nolan had been following Kevin’s lead with the whole “move to the country” thing the same way he’d been doing ever since he answered Kevin’s fucking "need a roommate - im a good cook" craigslist ad two years ago. 

But when Kevin’s grandma died and then his parents and every one of his aunts and uncles gradually said no to taking over the farm until finally it fell to him, Nolan should’ve known better than to get caught up in looking over Kevin’s shoulder as he pulled up the place on Google Streetview--classic white farmhouse, unpainted picket fence by the road and along the gravel driveway, tiny pond off to one side. 

He shouldn’t have let himself start thinking, looks like home but not. 

And when Kevin made his mind up to move out to the farm and try to make it back into something after it’d been sitting empty for a year and barely used for a handful of years before that when Kevin's grandparents' were too sick to do much, Nolan shouldn’t have let himself get caught asking too many questions about how Kevin was planning to run the whole place by himself. When Kevin laughed and said, “Why don’t ya quit that job you hate and come help me then, prairie boy,” Nolan should have said something other than, “No fucking way.” 

So he lays awake at night--grinding his teeth at how fucking loud the creaking of the house is--and thinks about things he could’ve told Kevin: “I’m never living in a place like that again,” “Yeah, I’m sure the mountain men and rednecks down there will just love me, eh?” “I have a good job and I shouldn’t give it up.” 

It’s all true.

It’s also true that Nolan had started to feel--or, whatever, had been feeling for a long time--like he was out of breath and would never be able to catch it if he didn’t get away from all the cement and exhaust and crowds. 

But by the end of March, with Kevin all creepily focused on the tiny little sprouts of his plants, Nolan was feeling just as lost out here in the country. Almost feeling like he’d rather be in the city, buildings towered up around him, trapped and claustrophobic, than out here in the middle of nowhere; unmoored and with no idea how to do anything.