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Should've Been Home Yesterday

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Nolan’s slept like shit for the better part of the last year. Fucking stupid stuff: lying awake from one to four am, then mainlining cold brew to stay awake at work, then passing out on the sofa from six to ten and getting probably the least restful sleep he’s ever had. Or getting into bed at fucking seven because he was too tired to do anything else, and not falling asleep until two in the morning. Waking up, day after day, at fucking five am, with fucking hours to fill before he had to leave for work. 

The first few months on the farm were basically the same--waking up too early from stress dreams, going running to get his brain the rest of the way online. 

Once he gets the goats, though, it feels like his schedule finally falls into place: when he wakes up at sunrise, he gets right up, and when he goes outside, there are already goats milling around in the field. And going to bed early doesn’t feel as fucking dumb when he’s pretty sure every other person within ten miles is asleep too, when everything’s so quiet and dark.

Back when Nolan woke up and went out to do his first ever morning feeding, it was cold and cloudless and not one of the goats was out in the field yet. He was so freaked out the whole walk to their shed that he could barely breathe. 

The goats had been fine, though: all inside the shed he and Kevin had cleared out for them, cuddled up together in the corner with the heat lamp. 

Nolan’s felt the same worry and the same relief basically every morning since, but walking out this morning, he finally doesn’t feel edgy and stressed. He just looks out across the land, and breathes it in. 

The air smells like smoke, warm and woody. Nolan knows from one of Leanne and Clancey’s long ass conversations with Kevin that they had been planning to light their burn pile last night. It's foggy out, too, for the first time since Kevin found him out on the porch way back in March--the tops of the mountains behind the field faded out into the sky, mist hanging over the grass.

As Nolan slips inside the gate, one of the goats runs up to him. He squats down and cups his hand over its head, feels the coarse hair over the delicate, tiny curve of its skull. 

He stays still for a second, crouched in the cool hanging fog, and just kind of feels, like, thankful.

He's out here living in a place that looks like the pictures from his “chill” saved folder on Instagram, feeling good more days than not. He gets to spend more time with Kevin than he did before, when Kev was working sixty hours a week and Nolan was working forty and either sleeping or wishing he was the rest of the time. And he has--like, he owns and is responsible for--a whole fucking field of baby goats. 

Nolan goes through the goats’ routine--tops up their water trough with the hose, pours out some feed for the day, and opens the gate between the back and front fields so they can graze wherever they want. A few of them wander around by his feet as he works, so he has to walk carefully.

Leaning against one of the new fenceposts, Nolan pulls out his phone. That part of his routine is different now, too.

Back in Philly and out here before the goats, Nolan would kill those early morning hours he couldn’t sleep through in bed or on the sofa, mindlessly scrolling and deleting email after email. He would stay there in the half-dark until Kevin dragged him out of his room or his alarms reminded him that he did have a job to get to.

Now, he’s been too anxious and then too excited to do anything more than shove his phone in his pocket and feet in his workboots before heading out to take care of his goats. By the time Nolan has reached this part of the morning--with the first round of goat chores done and the sun beginning to warm the day--it feels easier than it ever has to check his phone and then tuck it away again. He sends off a picture of the pasture to his sisters--who have started demanding daily farm updates--then texts the same picture to TK, feels a little relief that his email notifications never go over single digits anymore, and swaps his workboots for the running shoes he’s started keeping on a high shelf in the goats’ shed. (Nolan had made the mistake of leaving the old pair within their reach, but he’d only made it once.)

After he’s finished his run and stored his shoes safely out of Goat Mouth Range, Nolan sheds his workboots just inside the back door of the house and makes his way upstairs to the shower. The shitty, sputtering water pressure hasn’t magically improved since they arrived, but he has mostly gotten used to the way it tastes and even kind of smells a little bit sharp. 

He waits for fucking ever for the water to warm up, then finally gets impatient and ducks in while it’s still half cold, shivering but leaning his back into the spray and letting it tense up his muscles before finally turning mostly hot. 

He tips his head back into it, soaks his hair and thinks through his day. There will be some time to relax after breakfast, but sometime in the afternoon he and Kevin need to get together a list for their feed store run tomorrow. Nolan goes on those every week now, and he doesn't hate it as much as he could, especially when TK's there for Nolan to talk to while Kevin wanders around the store with G and Ryanne. 

The first time he and Kev had gone in after Nolan’s disastrous attempt to talk to TK, it was only G and some high school kid. G had been so stiff and formal with them that even Kevin couldn’t break the tension. Forget bulls in china shops; the bull that was Kevin’s friendliness had run head first into a brick wall and knocked itself out.

The actual literal next day, Kevin made a whole tray full of fancy little pies and tarts and threatened Nolan into delivering them to the shop.

When he’d gotten there, he’d expected to blush his way through five minutes of awful, politely hostile small talk before escaping. Instead, it was like two awkward minutes--Nolan setting the tray down and mumbling something about Kevin and something about liking Ryanne’s shirt, this splotchy black and white tie dyed tank top, and Ryanne and G just giving him cool looks and the-customer-is-wrong smiles--before Ryanne tried one of the tiny maple pecan pies.

Clutching the pie and stepping out of G’s reach, she’d announced, “TK is fired. I’m hiring Kevin to make me these every day.”

G had chuckled at her, but when he’d turned back to Nolan and clapped a hand on his shoulder, his face flattened back out.

“Look, kid.” (Nolan bristled, but still, this was going better than he’d hoped.) “Tell Kevin thanks, but if these are an apology, I think they’re from the wrong person to the wrong person. I don’t know what happened, but you need to sort your shit out with Teeks, not with us.”

Nolan had flushed, embarrassed as all hell. Talking to people about his shit was, like, fucking not something he ever wanted to do, but he could see how it would all spin out; how he could fuck himself over so easily and ruin the whole peaceful ass goat farmer thing he had going, if he didn’t clear things up with Ryanne and G.

He’d squared his shoulders, looked G dead in the eyes, and said, “We talked last week. Kev made these, but not for him.” Glancing at Ryanne and then over a shelf into the back corner of the shop, he added, “That’s my fuckup to fix.”

A beat had passed like that, with G’s hand still on Nolan’s shoulder, before Ryanne picked up another little tart and held it out across the counter to Nolan.

Startled, he’d looked up at her. She’d smiled.

G had been smiling too, this kind thing that sat at the corners of his eyes and the curve of his mouth. It’d reminded Nolan of TK, the warmth it held familiar despite the difference in features.

When he’d finally left the store, he had a little sticky note, fucking somehow, with the name of one of Ryanne’s friends who lived in town and apparently did bleach tie dye and sold it on Facebook. She’d waved him out the door saying, “Tell her you know me and you’ll get three dollars off!” 

The shower water sputters cold for a second, and Nolan yelps, jerking a step forward and shivering.

“Sorry,” Kevin yells up the stairs. 

“Fuck,” Nolan mumbles, ducking his head back into the still half cold water just long enough to rinse his shampoo out. 

He towels off and gets dressed in the cropped crewneck he ended up buying from Ryanne’s friend. Shoving a pair of socks in his pocket, Nolan makes his way downstairs. He figures Kev and TK will be in the kitchen, since TK coming over on Wednesday mornings and spending his day off with them is such a given at this point that he doesn’t even text beforehand like he’s started doing basically every other time he comes by.

On his lunch breaks, TK will ask in their new group chat whether Nolan and Kevin have eaten or what they’re hungry for or if they need anything from in town, then bring over some meal Ryanne and G “accidentally made too much of” or a big batch of leftovers his mom gave him that he says he’ll never be able to eat on his own, or sometimes just carry out from a restaurant in town. 

And he’ll text them both separately at night, wanna hang out? and wait for a yes from both of them before he drives out and lets himself in the back door, grabs a beer from the fridge and joins them in the living room where they’re always watching hockey or football or Deadliest Catch or, if nothing else is on, some crime show Nolan finds while flipping through channels that he knows TK will get all into.

The second he’s in the room, TK’ll start telling some story about his day, not stopping to ask Nolan to move his feet before flopping down on top of them at the end of the couch, leaving Nolan to groan and pull them out from under TK and then bitchily shove them back over his lap. TK never gets annoyed about it how Nolan wants. He just rests the cold bottom of his beer bottle on Nolan’s bare ankle and keeps gesturing with one hand until he’s done with his story or something good enough to distract him happens on TV, and then he’ll lay his free arm along the back of the couch or across Nolan’s shins. Nolan feels weird about it, a little, but mostly just warm, so he keeps letting it happen. Keeps saying sure every single time TK asks to come over, even when he’s in a bad mood.

The farm has parts of TK all over it now, too: a pair of mud coated workboots next to Nolan’s and Kevin’s by the back door, a spare charger for his lame ass constantly dying Android, the four wheeler he brought out one night and just left in one of the sheds, hanging the key up on the rack inside the back door and saying “Ah, it’ll be good to have it out here. I never used it out at my dad’s anyways.” 

Nolan combs his fingers through the wet strands of his hair and pads barefoot down the hallway, listening to TK’s low little laugh and Kevin’s voice booming louder and louder as he rambles about the goats.

“They fuckin’ hate me, man. Patty thinks they’re little angels because they follow him around like a disney princess, but one practically bit my fuckin’ finger off the other day, I swear.” 

Nolan listens to TK’s cackle and smiles, then makes his face look fucking normal and steps through the doorway into the kitchen. 

TK’s leaning against the counter, wearing an honest-to-god toolbelt. Kevin’s standing with his back to Nolan, waving a mug of coffee as he tells TK, “I’m not kidding dude, it’s like fucking Jumanji in there. Be careful.” 

TK’s still half laughing when his eyes hop over Kevin’s shoulder and land on Nolan. “Hey man, morning!”

“Hm.” Nolan passes Kevin and slumps against the counter next to TK. “Dude,” he says, “the goats are fucking nice, you just get them too wound up.”

Kevin rolls his eyes, then grins at Nolan. “Whatever, man. Ask TK what he brought over.”

Nolan turns to find TK smiling up at him. “What.” 

 

TK’s truck is parked at the front of the house, and from the top of the porch steps, Nolan can see clearly into the back of it, where TK's piled a bunch of just--. Nolan squints. Random fucking wood and rimless tires and shit. 

He stops; lets TK bound ahead and stop at the back of the truck, swinging one foot up onto the back bumper.

“You brought us a bunch of garbage? Like, trash off the side of the road?”

“No, dude, look .” TK plants a hand on the top of the tailgate and hops up into the bed in one smooth move. He spreads his hands out in the direction of the junk. 

Nolan just stares blankly at him and waits. 

“Figures you’d hate surprises,” TK laughs. He bends down and flips one of the tires out of the truck, onto the ground. “It’s stuff to make a goat playground!” 

Nolan blinks, walks out to the truck, hauls himself up alongside TK. And. Yeah, like--it actually is. Spare tires and a bunch of scrappy looking wood; two of those giant wooden spool things. 

“I got some of it from my dad’s junk shed, and G let me have the cable reels and pallets. It’s like, perfect, eh?”

Nolan blushes for no reason. Just--TK’s so fucking nice all the time. It was like, ten o’clock last night when Nolan sent him a link to an Instagram video of goats who had all these toys to play on--ramps and bridges and pyramids of old tires--with no words, just “🙄🙄😂🤔” And now here’s TK at barely nine in the morning, with a toolbelt on his hips and his truck full of junk he went all around town for.

“You’re gonna have to,” Nolan pauses, cuts his eyes to the blue line of the mountains over TK’s shoulder. “Like, show me how to, like, build stuff. I don’t know how to do this shit,” he says.

TK slaps him on the arm, and when Nolan looks at him, he’s grinning. “I gotcha, buddy.” 

 

They put shit together, kind of with a plan, kind of not, with TK leading and Nolan and Kevin just mostly doing what he says.

It sucks, a little, but it’s not the worst, not as annoying as when Nolan would have to sit through trainings back at work. TK always explains everything well, always shows them what to do, so Nolan doesn’t really feel nervous about fucking up or anything, and the whole thing comes together faster than Nolan expects. 

TK’s grimy by the end of it, his shirt sweaty under his arms and in the center of his chest. The band of his hat is a little damp too; his hands black at the palms. He runs the little playground obstacle course--up a ramp of plywood, three little leaps from spool to spool, down a sloppy staircase made of different sized tires--with the biggest fucking smile, then stumbles into Kevin’s chest at the end, grins over at Nolan, holds his eyes, and says, “Get your goats out here, bud. And don’t try to take all the fuckin’ credit, you gotta tell ‘em their uncles helped.”

Nolan doesn’t want to fucking laugh at that--he wants to roll his eyes the same way he would at the lady in his old office who always talked about her “fur babies” or whatever, but there he is, sun on his face, loud ass laugh slipping out and TK’s eyes still on his and Kevin giving him a stupid looking eyebrow wiggle over TK’s head. 

 

***

 

TK has the windows of his truck rolled halfway down and the radio clicked off. It’s just starting to get hot for the day, and he’s already a little sweaty from unloading a big delivery.

He’s got maybe fifteen minutes to feel the wind on his face before he gets back to the shop. Pinning the steering wheel in place with his knees, TK leans to grab his phone from where it’d slid across the bench seat.

TK’s been using his phone a lot more lately: texting Nolan so much that it takes him like five minutes to scroll back up to the top of their messages, going back and forth with Kevin everyday about the Pats and the Sens and whether Kevin or TK’s grandma make better cinnamon rolls, clicking “no” every time his phone asks him if he’s sure he doesn’t want to download whatever app to watch the videos Kevin and Nolan send in the group chat the three of them are in. The built-in internet works just fine.

Anyway, TK’s still not a fan of looking at his phone while he’s driving, so he smacks the key on the side and says “Call Mom” when the voice asks what it can do for him. Just like always, it rings twice before she picks up.

“Hey, how’s work?” He pauses for a second, tries to identify the people talking in the background on her end, then tries to make the conversation fast. She sounds busy. “Yeah, I know, I know, just wanted to ask real quick if you have any of that jalapeño jelly left that I can have? Sweet, thanks! I’ll swing by and grab it later. I was just talking to, uh--okay, jeez, I’ll tell you later! Bye, love you!”

When TK first moved out, going home--to his parents’ house--was strange, like he was getting back from a trip and then leaving again before he could even sleep in his own bed. He’d taken naps on the couch a lot back then, curled up after a big lunch under the ancient blanket his Nana had made his parents when they got married.

He doesn’t really stay over anymore, responsible enough to get himself home mostly sober, even after hours-long cookouts or holiday game nights that run late.

It still feels a little like he’s cheating on some weird test, though, later that afternoon when TK unlocks the door and steps into the quiet house.

He’s not planning to stay long, but he kicks his shoes off in the mudroom anyways, habit engrained deep.

TK heads to the kitchen and spots a few dishes in the sink, a pot soaking. He feels weird about just taking the jelly--like he’s going behind his mom’s back, even though she said he could have it, because she doesn’t know it’s not for him--she doesn’t even know who Nolan is, as far as TK knows. He hasn’t brought him up, hasn’t talked about how he’s been spending more and more time out on the farm, helping weed the garden and dragging trailers with the ATV his dad gave him for his twenty-fifth birthday and sitting around with Nolan’s feet in his lap. 

It’s not like he’s trying to hide them. He wants to tell his parents about them, about how funny they are and how big the goats are getting and about how Nolan has the same opinions on this season’s Survivor contestants as TK’s mom does. 

But every time he opens his mouth to say it--to tell his parents, Yeah, I’ve been hanging out with these two guys on the Hayes farm, the jelly’s for them-- he feels himself lock up, a little. 

It doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t want to be doing it. He wants to bring Kevin and Nolan over for dinner, and know that everything’s going to be fine; that seeing TK sitting next to them isn’t going to make his parents fucking think something about him or whatever. But.

He tries to make it up to his mom by putting away the clean dishes and scrubbing a dirty pot, setting it out to dry on the dishrack, before digging through the jars in the pantry.

When he’s got the one he’s looking for, TK shuffles the rest back into place and then pulls his phone out. It’s kind of tradition: when he stops by and nobody’s home, TK calls the landline, waits until the answering machine clicks in, and then leaves a message.

He rolls the jar between his hands while he talks, feeling the fake-quilted texture of the glass and the ridged edge of the metal lid against his skin, listening to his staticky voice echo back at him.

“Hey. I came by to get that jelly I asked about. Did the dishes, too. We should do dinner soon.” He pauses. “I’m bringing the jelly over to Kevin Hayes. I, uh. I heard he’s been looking all over for some for one of Nellie’s recipes. I have to go by tomorrow afternoon, so I’m gonna bring it over then. Uh, anyways. Dinner Sunday night? Lemme know. Love y’all.”

 

***

 

TK’s leaning on the post of the back porch, waving his hands all over as he tells Nolan and Kev about how good his mom’s homemade jelly will be in the Hot’n’Sticky Chicken recipe Kevin stuck up onto the fridge with a magnet last week.

Nolan rolls the little glass jar TK’s brought over between his palms and feels a little shitty that his first thought is a sarcastic Does she can her own vegetables too?

“And I know you were wantin’ to make biscuits, too, and you can use the rest of it on those, so.”

Nolan tilts his head over toward Kevin. He’s so relaxed into his rocking chair that he looks half asleep, head tipped back and feet sprawled out in front of him, boots untied and only halfway kicked off. 

“You’re not trying to make biscuits again,” Nolan says. 

Kev groans, but stays loose and lax, little smile on his face. “Patty. I gotta. I’m fucking dying for them.” 

“For what?” TK asks, jiggling his knee.

“Dude, these biscuits from this place that used to be right down the block from us. We’d go like, fucking three times a week.”

Nolan’s mouth waters a little. “Kevin’s been trying to make these fuckers since he first said he was moving, but they all suck ass.” 

Kevin nods. “Nothing like the ones from The Falls.”

TK perks up. “Oh, what? Dude, I’ve heard of that place. I’m pretty sure there’s one in the city, but I’ve never been.” 

“Oh man,” Kevin says, and then starts in on a whole fucking speech to TK--how the last time they went to the one in Philly, Kev bought a jar of their raspberry jam and a pack of frozen biscuits since they thought there wasn’t one near here; how hot their regular waiter back in Philly was; how Kevin’s been dreaming about the Chocolate Cake For Breakfast that they serve all day.

Nolan pulls up his maps app, searches. Fuck. He’s driven farther for stupider reasons before.

“Hey,” TK says, stepping up to stand knee to knee with Nolan, leaning over him and trying to look at his phone screen while Kevin just keeps going. “What’re you doin’?” He reaches for Nolan’s phone, trying to tilt it toward himself.

Nolan grunts, slaps his hand away, then nudges the bony inside of his knee into the outside of TK’s to say sorry or whatever, holds it there and lets TK jiggle his leg against Nolan’s while he turns to Kevin and starts listening again. 

Clicking his phone screen off, Nolan stands up, turns toward the door and smiles as Kevin’s phone dings, and then Kev lets out his big ass booming laugh.

“What?” TK says insistently. “What’s happening, why are you laughing, what did he send you?” 

He steps away from Nolan to lean over Kevin, who lets TK take his phone easily, wheezing out another laugh.

“Fucking directions.

Nolan shoves at TK’s shoulder. “Come on. Piss now if you need to, it’s an hour drive.” 

Gathering the top half of his hair, he slips a band off his wrist to tie it up, and slips on the sandals he has sitting outside the back door. 

In the car halfway there, Kevin’s still talking: about the salmoncakes and hollandaise sauce, the peanut butter pie, the way he swears their butter tastes better than any other butter.

 

***

 

Kevin’s driving, like he always seems to do when he and Nolan show up somewhere together, and TK wonders if it’s that Kevin likes driving or that Nolan doesn’t. 

“Dude, so Patty never went before we met, right? He always said it couldn’t be worth the wait .”

Kevin puts on this goofy, high-pitched voice for the last bit that isn’t anything like how Nolan talks, and TK turns to look in the back seat. 

Nolan is mid-eyeroll.

“So he kept refusing to go until I dragged his ass out of the apartment at six fucking thirty.”

TK spins back to Kevin.

“In the morning?!”

“Yeah, man. I had to get him there right when they opened to get a table without him bitching about the wait.”

It goes on like that, Kevin telling stories and Nolan pulling faces and cutting Kevin off to read directions off Kevin’s phone once they get into the city. TK rotates back and forth to watch them make fun of each other.

Kevin parks sloppily in a cramped lot. A cute little diner stands out against the asphalt, bright blue walls contrasting the whitewashed doors and window frames. When Kevin makes his way to the hostess, TK starts to follow, but Nolan catches him by the shoulder and shoves him toward the side of the building.

“C’mon.”

TK follows him.

They round the corner and push through a small crowd of people before emerging onto a deck that looks out on a river.

“Woah,” TK says, walking to the railing and leaning out over it. He can’t really smell the water from here, not over the maple and bacon smell of the restaurant, but he feels the air off it sinking into his lungs anyways. He thinks about how much shit he would maybe get from Kevin and Nolan if they knew that he’d been feeling uncomfortable, just from the thirty minutes it took them to get from the edge of the city, six lane road and tons of traffic, to the parking lot. He’d been glad for basically the first time in his life that he could remember that he wasn’t the one driving. “Dude, how’d you know this was back here?” 

He hears Nolan stalk up behind him, slow heavy steps, and then Nolan’s pushing into the side of his line of vision, draping his arms over the railing, phone clutched in one hand. He stares straight out at the water, face flat, but he’s relaxed in a way TK’s figured out by now means he’s happy. 

He holds out his phone, shaking it at TK all duh, and TK smiles and turns back to the river.

“I caught a nine pound small mouth in this once, up closer to home,” TK says, running his fingertips over the grooves of the wood. 

“No you did fucking not.” 

Kev finds them like that, arguing over how big smallmouth can get, a little while later.  

“Leave you two alone for five fucking minutes,” Kevin says, hooking an arm around Nolan’s neck and pulling him away from the railing, “and of course you find some water and start talking about fishing, ya hicks.”

When they get seated--at this sturdy little wooden table TK can’t stop running his hands over--Nolan and Kevin turn to TK, both looking impatient--Kevin wide eyed excited, Nolan with his lips pursed and his eyes intent.

“Uh,” TK says.

Nolan snorts a little chuckle and turns away, kicking at Kevin under the table. TK tries to look at the menu, but he keeps getting distracted by Nolan and Kevin talking quietly to each other, pointing out things that are similar and different to the restaurant back in Philadelphia, telling short little half stories about other times they’ve eaten at a place almost like this, but miles away, in a city TK’s never been to--”Dude, remember when that girl you hooked up with came with us and she was still so drunk?” and “That’s still not as funny as that time Sam saw us and you pretended you’d never met him." (“Wish I hadn’t.”)

None of them have even so much as glanced at a menu, but after a few minutes Kevin apparently decides his order and announces it like he does most things: loudly and cheerfully. He continues,“And two knuckle sandwiches for Patso because he’s a growing boy.”

Kev reaches out and pulls at Nolan’s little bun when he says this. This catches TK by surprise: Nolan doesn’t even pretend to be irritated. He just laughs, bright and easy, and slaps at Kevin’s hand.

“I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich,” Nolan snips. TK smiles, watching them slap at each others’ hands for another second before Nolan finally drops his arm down and elbows Kevin in the ribs, hard enough to make Kevin let out a low oof of breath. It’s kind of like hanging out with Ry and G, or Law and Claire--just being around two people who know each other so much, who are so comfortable with each other. It makes him feel all happy and soft, even though he’s not really part of it, for a second. Nolan reaches up to fuss with his hair, tightening it and pushing the shorter strands back from his head, and turns to TK, same fond, open smile on his face, unguarded in a way Nolan doesn’t look that much even when it’s just the three of them, and tells him, “Don’t get the cake. Kev will eat it all, because he has no fucking manners.”

TK didn’t really know anything about either Nolan or Kevin when he decided he liked them. He’d figured out Kevin pretty quickly after that first day--there wasn’t a ton to guess about him when he just put his whole self on display all the time--but Nolan had taken more work to get to know. Obviously.

Law’s mostly gotten okay, said he would trust TK’s opinion if he thought Nolan wasn’t actually as much as a dick as he seemed like in their really, really bad first meeting. 

TK hasn’t said a ton, other than that Nolan apologized and that he’s cool and he thinks Law would actually like him, if they tried again. He doesn’t really know how to explain it to Law, how to explain Nolan. He wishes Law could just see him like this: hair messy, face easy, eyes soft on TK. Wide necked tie dye t-shirt almost hanging off his shoulder, thumb systematically smoothing out every drop of condensation that shows up on the outside of his glass of ice water. 

He just wants Law to, like, get Nolan, the way TK feels like maybe not a lot of people Nolan’s ever known have gotten him. To get that maybe Nolan’s a little more work--he’s not as easy to make laugh; he always likes to know when TK’s coming over beforehand; sometimes he’s grumpy and quiet or whatever. But, like. It’s worth it, to get to be around him, hear his low little breath of a laugh and the bitchy jokes he makes under his breath sometimes.  

There’s a part of TK that wants to keep this to himself. More of him wants to share it, though, because Law is his best friend and Law understands everything about TK except what he likes about Nolan, and that just feels so wrong.

TK only realizes a waitress has shown up, and that he’s staring, when Nolan tamps his grin down into this, like, polite boy-next-door face. His cheeks are still rosy, and his eyes are warm. He looks so nice . TK looks up at the waitress.

He ends up getting peach pancakes--and a biscuit on the side when Kevin insists that’s what they’re there for--and TK enjoys every second of eating it.

TK hasn’t really focused on what he’s eating in a long time. When he eats with Law or his parents, he’s always talking, shoving food in and half chewing between sentences. At home he usually just has mostly warm leftovers or one of the five meals he can kind of cook, standing at the counter and using a fork he just pulled out of the sink and rinsed.

Here, though, TK takes his time, tries to picture everything Nolan and Kevin describe. He tries to imagine, too, all of the times that weren’t worth telling stories about, but that made Nolan like this place enough to want to share it with TK like Kev had shared it with him.

TK leans forward to pick up the last piece of biscuit on his plate. He drags it through raspberry jam, pops it in his mouth and chews, slow and savoring because maybe he’ll never eat here again.

“Good, eh?” Nolan says, eyes sharp on TK from across the table, all accent that reminds TK of summers up at his grandparents’ house, big body taking up space and looking sated or--whatever. 

He sticks his jellied finger into his mouth, sucks off the tartness of the jam, blinks over to Kevin. 

“For real, man. Y’all weren’t kidding.” 

 

***

 

Kevin spends the whole drive back talking constantly to keep himself awake as he drives. TK’s voice gets louder and louder as he gets excited telling jokes, and both of them talk over the music coming out of Nolan's phone speaker. Nolan turns his head to the window, presses in close enough that his face is hidden, and fucking smiles out at the black expanse of fields, the occasional farmhouse.

He lets their voices and the soft rhythm of the car on the road lull him half asleep. Doesn’t try to stay part of the conversations, just listens. 

Back at the farm, Kevin gives TK a hard, full body hug, then slaps him and Nolan both on the back and heads inside. Nolan sticks by TK’s truck with him, without really letting himself think about it, and slides the toe of his shoe through the dirt of the driveway as TK pulls the door open and then turns around to face Nolan again.

“Thanks for lettin’ me come with y’all,” TK says, his voice stretching and curling around the vowels, most drawl Nolan’s ever heard in it.

“Dude,” Nolan says, blushing and looking at the ground. He knows TK’s over it--he hasn’t said anything about it, is careful with Nolan more because he’s thoughtful than for any other reason--but Nolan doesn’t know how to get all the way over feeling like a dick for almost fucking things up with TK. He tries to find something to say that would make TK get that, but, like, he doesn’t want to be stupid and cheesy and embarrass himself when TK’s just being polite. “Of course.” 

TK smiles. He leans forward a bit and bumps his shoulder into Nolan’s, soft fabric of his t-shirt brushing against the skin of Nolan’s bicep.

Nolan just stands there, right up by TK, warmth radiating off the truck into the few inches of air between them, until TK turns and opens the door, and Nolan has to step back for him to have room to get in the cab. 

“Good night,” TK says, rolling down the window so he can talk to and smile at Nolan, elbow crooked out the open space.

“Bye,” Nolan says, and then turns to go inside. He doesn’t hear TK’s tires turn on gravel until the screen door of the back porch is shut behind him. 

 

He gets a text fifteen minutes later, when he’s laying in bed scrolling through Instagram. 

ok i’m ready for more biscuts lets go back

Lol. Felt that way since i moved here.

TK sends a picture not too long after--him holding up a decent sized smallmouth. Nolan clicks it open to view it full screen. The quality’s not that great, but TK looks obviously younger, which feels weird, because Nolan’s never looked at TK and thought of him as looking old, even though he knows that he’s two years older than Nolan. The picture was obviously taken at night, flash glinting off TK’s tan forehead, everything behind him black. He’s smiling, his hair pushed back under the mesh of a trucker hat, looking a little longer than it is now. He’s got on the rattiest sweatpants Nolan’s ever fucking seen, and Nolan has to delete the start of a stupid, sleepy text saying you should grow your hair out again to send TK, What the fuck are those pants , instead.  

good luck charm baby

Don’t ever wear those around me.

TK just says hahaha ok back, and maybe Nolan should let it go there, should go to sleep and keep himself from seeming desperate when maybe TK's trying to end the conversation.

But instead, he googles and screenshots the Virginia state record smallmouth bass catch, at 8.2 pounds, and sends it to TK. 

congrats bud, TK texts back, you’re freidns with a record breaking fisherman

You’re such a fucking liar.

TK responds right away, and then just keeps responding, and eventually they’ve texted back and forth long enough that when Nolan checks to make sure his alarm is on it bleakly tells him, Set for four hours and nine minutes from now. 

Have to go to sleep or i’ll die tomorrow.

okay. wouldn’t want that :)

Night 🌛

good night :) 

Nolan drops his phone onto his bedside table and curls onto his side, pressing a smile into his pillow because he got to eat at The fucking Falls and he’s happy and he’s alone in the dark of his room, so whatever.