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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. 

Chapter Text

When the sky has turned fully blue, Kevin gives Nolan a long, assessing look, then goes inside the house and comes out ten minutes later with a plate of toast and sausage and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. They eat side by side in their camp chairs, Kevin probably admiring all the work he's done on the gardens out in front of them and Nolan just glaring across the pasture, at the side of that fucking shed. 

Nolan brings their plates in and washes them, then wanders back out to the porch, wraps himself back up in his big flannel blanket, and spends his day watching Kevin in the garden. He doesn’t go for a run. He doesn’t try to fix anything.

When Kevin pauses for lunch, he brings a sandwich out for Nolan as well.

In the afternoon, Kevin hammers thin posts into the strawberry planters and stretches lengths of big, stringy mesh between them. He’s talking, and at first Nolan doesn’t realize it’s directed at the sprouting plants. When he actually tunes in to Kevin’s words, he can just barely make out his voice, softer than usual, from across the yard: “Now you don’t have to lay on the ground. Isn’t that nice?” He wraps a tiny green stem delicately around a string as he says, “Climb up here. There you go!”

When Kevin eventually stops poking at the strawberries for the afternoon, Nolan follows him inside, drops his blanket on the sofa, and sits at the wooden kitchen table.

He’s been scrolling through Instagram for a while, barely noticing as Kevin pulls out jars of his grandma’s old canning--pale, round potatoes, white and yellow corn, big hunks of chopped up carrots--and makes it into a creamy looking soup. He sets a bowl down in front of Nolan and settles heavily in the chair across from him with his own big bowl. 

He’s looking at Nolan all big eyed and sincere in this way that means he wants to talk. 

“What,” Nolan says, taking a bite and giving Kevin a low "this is good" grunt.

“I know you’re not loving it here so far,” Kevin says, frowning down at his soup, stirring it slowly. “I get that gardening’s not really your fave, buddy, but I know we can find something you’re gonna love doing.” Nolan barely twists his lips into a bitchy scowl before Kevin starts again. “No, no man,” he says right away, “I’m not saying you’re not doing enough, I just mean. I want to find something you’re gonna like as much as I’m liking planting.”

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to do shit when everything on this fucking farm is a piece of shit,” Nolan snaps. He takes another bite of soup and says more quietly, “And I never like doing anything.”  

“Come on Patty, that’s not true. You like running and your moody music and getting tattoos. You like stalking that soccer player you’re in love with on Instagram.”

Nolan rolls his eyes. “That’s gonna help us out here.”

“Maybe, man” Kevin says, grinning, and then, suddenly serious: “Hey.” He snaps his fingers twice, then points at Nolan. “What about those goats you were all obsessed with.” 

Nolan grimaces. He needs to stop sending Kevin random Instagram posts when he’s bored.

“What about them?” he mumbles into a spoonful of soup. 

He, like. Kind of actually was obsessed with this little herd of goats he followed on Instagram for a while. Their owners would post videos of them running around, bleating and bouncing and eating everything in sight. They were just cute and, like, kind of weird. The babies were fluffy and sweet looking, and they all had big ears and little noses and just. Whatever. Nolan’d been having a hard few months when he was really into them, and sometimes coming home and looking at pictures of baby goats was kind of the only thing that kept him from crying. 

“We could get goats, Patty!” 

Nolan blinks.

He has no idea how much goats cost or how much room they need or how the fuck to take care of them. 

He takes three bites of soup to make sure his voice is flat when he tells Kevin, “I guess I could research it a little.” 

 

***

 

On Nolan’s next run, he sees the farm with--well maybe not fresh eyes, but with a purpose it hasn’t had, he hasn't had in the two months they’ve been here.

He doesn’t really know much about goats, yet, but the two little fields along the road seem like they’d be decent little pastures for them--flat and grassy and well fenced in, unlike the big back pasture. And if they fixed the fence back there, it seems like the grass and weeds would probably be enough for a handful of goats to eat for a while, although Nolan isn’t sure what they’d eat when it snowed. The creepy little raccoon shed would be a good place for them to hang out in when it rains, maybe. 

Kevin’s spending the day looking at the junk Nolan sorted in the big shed, trying to find more supplies for planting the bigger fields later in the spring. Nolan hunkers down on the sofa with his laptop and gets started with possibly the dumbest google search he’s ever made: “goats how to”.

There’s a fucking overwhelming amount of cheerful little homesteading blogs and more intense, research-y articles. Nolan rubs his head, turns the brightness down on his screen, and finally settles on a series of youtube videos of this hot guy with a southern accent sitting in a field full of goats and talking about, like, the fat percentages in the milk of different breeds and how high fences need to be to keep foxes from getting in and eating the kids and how to keep track of which goats are the best moms.

It’s all stuff Nolan never would’ve even thought to think of. 

He gives himself a little break as a reward for doing, like, almost an hour’s worth of work, and looks up “buy scythe”. 

He figures that’ll be pretty fucking simple--add to cart, check out, go outside to check the number on the front of the house that he keeps forgetting.

He ends up on a site called Scythe Supply, and he learns that he was using the rusty old scythe he found in the shed as wrong as fucking possible, and that it was totally the wrong size for him. 

Because, like, apparently scythes are even more like hockey sticks than he thought, and you need a custom one based on your height and the length of your arm and how much you can lift and what you want to do with it. And apparently, custom scythes cost $250 before shipping, and that’s, like, at least a goat and a half according to Nolan’s research, so. 

Considering that every single trip into town and every day out here makes Nolan have more and more nightmares about all their money running out and them having to move back to Philly and get real jobs again; having to tell Kevin’s mom and dad that the farm that’s been in their family for generations is getting sold off because they can’t afford to keep shelling out money on land that’s not making any, and how fucking embarrassing would all of that be, and--. He decides buying a scythe was a stupid fucking idea.

He calls a mechanic in town to fix the obviously fucking more practical ride-on lawnmower instead, and scratches out a list of the things he absolutely needs to buy for the goats: wire fencing to make the back pasture goat proof, a big metal gate so they can let the goats out to switch them between fields, a water trough, and then, like, actual goats. 

Now that he's got half an idea of what questions he needs answered, Nolan reads through a handful of blog posts that talk about the best goat breeds for different uses. The last link he clicks on is this bizarrely peppy article on the legality of selling unprocessed milk at farmer's markets, which is so far from what Nolan is prepared to deal with that he scratches a whole list of dairy breeds right off his notes and closes, like, five tabs in his browser.

It hits him then--it should've hit him fucking weeks ago but for some reason it happens now, staring at a picture of a goat under the headline "Goat Breeding Tips and Tricks"--that he really did quit his job and move to the country with absolutely no plan. He doesn't even have any experience to fall back on. It's insane, and so unlike him, and also somehow, completely unsurprising when he thinks about how fucking miserable he was for so long. 

He spent a lot of his almost ten years in Philly not thinking about that.

Nolan slams his laptop shut and tucks his hair behind his ears, then presses his fingertips into his eyes, just hard enough to make everything go dark and fuzzy.

“Baby cat!” Kevin’s voice booms, the back door slamming behind him. Nolan jumps and colorful little dots spark behind his eyelids before he drops his hands. He hears Kevin stomp mud off his boots for half a second before his heavy footsteps continue down the hall and into the living room.

He’s breathing heavy, grinning huge, pulling a toque off and leaving his hair crazy. 

“Look,” he pants, “at what the fuck I found.” 

Nolan takes another second to stare judgily at Kevin, and then he looks down to his hand, where he’s holding a small, awful, wood framed painting of a perfectly rectangular, white cat. Its body is fucking huge and its head and legs are super tiny, but its little face is clearly glaring, teeth bared, at the viewer. 

Nolan’s cheeks curl up in a smile and he makes himself pull them back down to glare up at Kevin. 

“Don’t.” 

“It’s you, Patty!” Kevin yells, shaking the painting obnoxiously in Nolan’s face. Nolan snorts a laugh and shoves Kevin’s arm out of the way, but Kevin just pushes it back, and then reaches his other arm out to plant his meaty hand on top of Nolan’s head, trying to force him to look at the painting. 

Nolan gives in and laughs for a minute before ducking out from under Kevin's hand and standing up.

“Dude, stop fucking around," he says, trying simultaneously to bite down on his smile and change the subject. "We need shit from the store.” 

“Oh I’m fucking around?” Kevin says happily, eyes all bright, “What the fuck were you doing in those sheds for a whole day last week, they still look like shit! If you want goat stuff you gotta come with me and meet the locals, bud.”

So the thing is, Nolan hasn't actually gone to the little farm store in town yet. Nolan's older sister Maddie is, fortunately, the only person in his life capable of forcing him to tag along for shopping. He'd helped Kev with the garden shit back at the farm, but that was mostly Kevin's project, so he's the one who'd driven into town over and over to get supplies. 

Nolan's been to town and done grocery runs and stuff, but he's managed to avoid having to, like, socialize with the old-as-fuck farmers and hicks he's sure spend their time in a fucking "feed store."

But.

Kevin hasn't exactly said it in words, but he does know Nolan pretty well, and he's not wrong to imply that Nolan needs his own project too if he's gonna actually survive living on this farm, and not just, like, lose his mind to boredom and anxiety.

So, whatever, Kevin got him out of the city and is about to buy fucking goats just to make Nolan happy and give him something to do other than think. So Nolan wants to try to do something nice, which he sucks at, and he knows that for some reason Kevin counts Nolan going to the store with him as, like, a treat or something.

And anyway he knows Kevin wouldn’t buy the right shit even with a list.

“Fine,” he mumbles, one corner of his mouth still tipped up a tiny bit. 

 

***

 

Kevin pulls his car off the road onto a wide gravel lot and parks alongside one of those signs that's backlit and has swappable letters. It reads: "FLYING G`S FARM SUPPLY".

There's a long, low building that has bags of soil and fertilizer--Nolan recognizes those fuckers by this point--stacked on wooden pallets against the front wall. Off to the side are big rolls of wire fencing and a few sizes of sturdy metal gates leaning on a wall.

Kevin gives Nolan a glance, reaches over to give him two sloppily rough pats on the cheek, and then climbs out of the car and makes his way inside, shoulders curled against the wind. 

Instead of following, Nolan sits for a minute, trying to think --what does he need, how are they gonna get it home, is any of this worth the money, is some farmer gonna ask him a question he doesn’t know the answer to? None of his thoughts actually even process, and he’s left feeling out of breath and like some invisible timer is ticking down and he still doesn’t have any answers. He sighs and taps into the list he'd typed into his phone.

Eight foot wide gate. Four inch square wire fence--apparently if the fence is too big, goats will stick their heads through and get stuck. At least four boxes of those weird little fencing staples. A trough.

The stuff he needs, now, to get started.

Nolan reads through it all, mouths the words along, reads through it again, and then he clicks the screen off, tucks his phone away, and heads into the shop.

He knows from Kevin that the shop is run by a married couple. Kevin talked all about them the first time he got back from the store; called the guy “pretty chill” and the woman "sweet" and "smart" and "extremely in charge" which sounds great, but Nolan's not really looking forward to having someone's mom judge him--correctly and fucking embarassingly--for everything he obviously doesn't know.

Back in grade school, Nolan knew this kid whose dad owned a local hardware store, and Nolan had literally never seen the man without a cowboy hat and suspenders. He's been trying, ever since Kevin told him about this place, to picture the kind of woman that marries a man who's perpetually in a cowboy hat and suspenders.

He's not really expecting the beefy, bearded ginger dude trying to convince Kevin he's planting the wrong kind of pumpkins over by a rack full of seed packets to look like he's barely in his mid thirties and to be wearing, like, normal shit--jeans and a polo and a snapback that says “G’s” on it in cursive, but okay.

Nolan is absolutely not expecting the woman sitting behind the counter to be five years older than Nolan, max, with blonde hair spilling over her shoulder in a loose braid and wearing a soft-looking sweater and overalls with little embroidered flowers all over. 

He's, like. Staring, and probably fucking blushing, which is a hilariously wrong first impression, he thinks, kind of blankly.

She's just not even remotely what he'd imagined. She's got this easy, relaxed look to her that shocks Nolan directly back to the first moment he and Kev had pulled up to the farm and he'd felt a little bit at home. Also, he wants her overalls.

The woman glances up at him, and he's still too out of it to hold her eye contact the way he normally would, a challenge. Instead, he glances away, looks out over the shop.

The counter splits it into two halves. The whole space is well-lit and well-organized in a cozy but neat style that seems more Instagram than farm supply store, but still somehow feels homey. On one side, the space is full of pallets stacked with bags of horse and cow and chicken feed, and shelves filled with all kinds of tools and farm shit. The other side of the shop has racks of coats and heavy-duty jumpsuits under a hanging sign that declares them all “Authentic Carhartt Brand”. Nolan spots this black denim jacket that looks like it's got matching black fleece in the collar, and he is gonna have words with Kevin later for buying him the ugly brown coat instead of that. A few rows of chunky boots line the far wall, too, under a corkboard full of little handwritten notices and what look like classified ads.

The woman is still watching Nolan, and when they make eye contact again, she smiles.

"Hi, I'm Ryanne. Let me know if you need anything or just come on up when you're ready to check out."

Nolan forces himself to give her a tight little nod, and turns away.

He walks straight to a shelf in the back like he knows where the fuck he’s going. 

He's looking at a row of livestock supplements--there's a big brown cube of Nolan doesn’t know what that’s just called “goat block,” a white one obviously made of salt, and a pink one that claims to be salt, too--but also kind of listening to Kevin's conversation. It's hard not to; he's a loud guy and it's a small space. There’s no one else in the store, so it’s easy for Nolan to hear him, even from a few shelves away. 

The ginger guy is laughing at a story about one of Kevin's grandma's recipes that he'd tried to make last week. Kevin tells him how Nolan had taken one bite and flat out refused to eat more, his voice all noisy and warm and fake hurt as he says, “Patty threw it in the trash after all my hard work, I was heartbroken.” 

The guy catches his breath and asks, "When are you gonna let us meet Patty, man? Bring your girl in next time!"

Nolan freezes, feels his heartbeat all the way in his palms.

He can see Ryanne behind the counter, smiling over at Kevin, who--fuck him, honestly--doesn't even pause for a second before looking dead at Nolan, grinning, and saying, "I did," in his smuggest fucking voice.

Nolan's cheeks fucking burn. He's gonna kill Kevin.

"G, meet Patty. Patty, G and Ryanne."

The guy--G, whatever the fuck his name is--looks confused, eyebrows drawing together, eyes darting back and forth; taking in Nolan and glancing back to Kevin like he can’t even wrap his head around the idea of Kevin having Nolan and not some sweet little housewife. He parts his lips, then purses them for a second, face tight and scrunched and grimacing, and his face finally settles on discomfort.

That’s a fucking facial journey Nolan could’ve done without.

He’s used to people thinking Kevin and him are a couple, and he doesn’t really care that much, most of the time. Kevin tells the same dumb joke whenever someone asks them about it-“I’m pretty sure my own mom thinks we eloped last year and I’ve been lying to her ever since. She never believes me when I say I’m out of his league”--and sometimes Nolan says his stupid line--“You fuckin’ wish you were in my league”--and it’s not a big deal. It’s not like either of them are going to get offended by the implication that they’re into guys--they both are into guys. But that’s not something Nolan was, like, going to tell the two random owners of this small town fucking feed store. 

Nolan grits his teeth and jerks his head away from G, and when his eyes land on Ryanne, he finds her already looking at him, this huge smile spreading out on her face, and Nolan just fucking knows she’s about to say how cute Kevin and Nolan are together, but right as she’s tilting her head all sweet and opening her mouth, Kevin barrels ahead, as fucking usual, striding over to clap a hand on Nolan’s shoulder, shaking him a little. 

“My buddy is getting goats!” he says, grinning over at Nolan and then looking back at Ryanne. “But our fence is in rough shape, and they need to stay out of my garden or we’ll never be able to start that farmer’s market you told me about, Ryanne! Patso, tell ‘em what’s on your list.”

He pulls his hand off Nolan but lets it drag across his back for a second, scratching gently in this way Nolan always finds comforting. Usually Nolan would lean into it, but he can still feel Ryanne and G’s eyes on him, and his cheeks are still hot, so he leans away and takes a few steps toward the counter, trying to look serious through his blush.

“I need an eight foot wide gate.” 

G finally, like, unsticks his face and quickly walks up to stand behind the counter next to Ryanne. “We have one outside,” he says, sounding flustered, and Nolan’s heart rate slows down finally because at least he managed to make himself sound normal, not fucking freaked out like this guy does. “Our truck isn’t here today, but we can have it delivered. We do free delivery.”

Nolan rolls his shoulders back and recites the rest of his list, his voice steady and his chin up high, his eyes meeting G’s, then Ryanne’s. 

“We’ll have to order in for that much fence,” Ryanne says apologetically. “It shouldn’t take more than a week, though. We’ll have the gate and the trough out to you tomorrow, so y’all can start with that, and we’ll deliver the rest when it comes in.” 

Kevin comes up to the counter, his shoulder brushing Nolan’s as he sets down a handful of bags of seeds. “Throw some fertilizer in there too so I don’t have to put any more of that shit in my car.” 

Ryanne rings their order into the cash register while G hunches over and writes down their address for delivery, and Nolan still doesn’t know if they get it, but at least they’re not saying fucking, “we’d rather not do business with people like y’all,” which is a situation that’s been peppered throughout Nolan’s stress dreams since a month before they moved down here. It’s what he’d kind of been expecting, so he’ll take awkwardness and these two maybe thinking he and Kevin are together.

Nolan feels Kevin leaning into his shoulder, like he’s checking in. He puts a little pressure back into it, tries to say “I’m good” through it, lets the tension in his jaw melt out. Kevin relaxes against him; sways away.

G clicks his pen and then straightens, his face set. “We’ll put that on your account and have it out to y'all soon.” He turns to Nolan. “It was really nice to meet you, Patty,” he says, his voice serious. 

Nolan glares blandly at him. He’s about to bite out, “Don’t call me that,” when Kevin slings an arm around Nolan’s neck and drags him toward the door, calling “He says right back atcha G,” behind them.  

 

***

 

As soon as he pulls onto the road in front of the Hayes’ farm, TK spots the shape of a guy way back in one of the pastures, putting his whole body into swinging a hatchet at a sapling.   

He knows from G that the two dudes who finally took over the farm last month are city guys who haven’t farmed before and don’t really know what they’re doing. 

G always thinks he knows better than everyone anyway, though, and hearing him complain about some customer asking dumb questions is nothing special--like, really, it happens all the time, even with regulars he knows G really likes--so TK wasn’t really worried about it, until this morning. While G finished strapping a big gate and trough down in the back to TK’s truck, Ryanne had snuck a carton of eggs into the front seat and told TK in her sweet gentle mom-voice, “Give them these and help them out while you’re over there, TK. They need it.” 

So he was half expecting to drive into a disaster--maybe some huge fire or the guys planting pumpkins three weeks early or someone getting their finger cut off trying to mess with a piece of equipment they didn’t know how to use. 

It isn’t really that bad, though. The farm looks a little cleaned up from the last time he saw it, but not much. The grass is still long, and the pasture fence is still mostly falling apart.

But there’s no smoke or blood, or pumpkins, that he can see, so that’s good.

Pulling into the driveway, he sees a big, burly looking guy slumped down in a rocking chair on the front porch, boots up on the railing, eyes closed and chest rising and falling steadily.  

TK laughs to himself and lets him sleep. He parks all the way at the back of the driveway, outside the big garage, where he figures these guys want their stuff from G’s unloaded. 

He hops out of his truck and watches across the pasture as the dude with the axe gives the tree he’s working on one more whack and then hunches over, hands on his thighs, shoulders heaving like he’s breathing heavy.

There’s a whole line of overgrown little trees all along the fence. It looks like the guy has gotten through maybe six of them so far, and he’s got probably thirty to go. 

TK laughs, grabs the little “Flying G’s” water bottle Ryanne gave him for Christmas, and heads across the field. 

“Hey,” he calls when he’s a few feet away from the guy, who’s back to hacking at another thin tree. 

The dude spins around and gives him the world's iciest glare.

He’s tall and broad shouldered, just like the guy on the porch, and he’s wearing jeans and a bulky brown Carhartt, just like the other guy, too. But his cheeks are flushed bright pink and sweaty, and his longish hair is dark blonde, half stuck to his neck and half pulled up in a messy little sprout of ponytail.

TK’s pretty sure this is Patty based on Ryanne and G’s descriptions--“super pretty and blushy” from Ry and then just “tall” from G. G had laughed like it was an understatement when Ry called the other guy, Kevin, enthusiastic, and TK can’t imagine that’s this dude, scowling flatly at him like he’s furious about having to see another person. 

“I’m TK,” he says, when probably-Patty doesn’t talk. “From G’s. You’re Patty, right?” Patty’s chest heaves, and his fingers wobble a little as he sets the axe down. “Want a drink?” TK asks, holding out his water bottle. “It’s probably warm, but.” He shrugs.

Patty looks at him for a second, then steps forward and reaches out to grab the bottle.

“Nolan,” he mumbles, right before tipping his head back. 

TK hates his first name, too, so he’s happy to call this guy by his middle name or whatever. 

TK watches Nolan’s throat work as he swallows long, quick gulps. He pulls the bottle away and reaches up to wipe the back of his hand over his mouth. The move pulls the front of his jacket open a little, and TK gets a glimpse of the white t-shirt he’s wearing underneath, which is printed with a drawing of a smiling goat wearing a bright pink and yellow flower crown. 

TK smiles. “I like your shirt,” he says.

Nolan scowls and shoves the water bottle back into TK's hands, then tucks his fists into his pockets and pulls his coat tighter closed around him, covering up the little goat face. 

“Why are you out here,” he says, his voice low and rough. 

“Just delivering y'all's order from G’s, but then I saw you back here looking wiped, and, like. Dude, get a chainsaw, eh? An axe is for firewood.”

The guy’s face softens into a confused, slow blink, and then shifts back into a glare. “Obviously I don’t have a chainsaw.”

“Oh, well, G’s has one you can rent for, like, fifty bucks. Totally worth it, trust me. I can bring it out next time I come by with a delivery.” Nolan’s scowl darkens. “Also,” TK adds, “if you wanna keep doing this now, you need to swing your axe better. You’re gonna throw your back out doing it the way you were.”

TK stands still for a moment and just gets looked over by Nolan’s bright blue, bitchy eyes, and then Nolan grunts and gestures to the axe lying on the ground beside him. “If you’re such an expert,” he bites out. 

TK smiles cockily as he hands Nolan the water bottle again, then bends to pick up the axe. “So you wanna put one hand here, on the base,” he tells Nolan, holding the axe out between them so Nolan can get a good look at his grip. “And then put the other one here, right under the head.” 

He steps in front of the tree Nolan was working on. It’s pretty thin, maybe three years old. There’s a little chunk taken out of it where Nolan had hit it already. 

“And then you just kinda swing it like a bat, okay? Use your core, and let the handle slide through your one hand so you’re swinging it from the base.” TK takes a swing and knocks a wedge of wood out. His hair falls in his face and he flicks it back. “I need a little ponytail like you,” he says, grinning over at Nolan, whose glare seems a little lighter. “And don’t chop all in one place. You wanna make sure--” 

“Patty,” a voice hollers across the field behind them. “Is that an axe murderer trying to get ya or are you good?”

TK smiles and looks over his shoulder. The guy from the porch, Kevin, TK figures, is making his way across the overgrown pasture towards them.

Nolan looks TK up and down, then looks to his big friend and holds up his hand, palm down, and does a wriggly little, “sort of” motion. 

“Buddy,” TK says, “you let me have this axe.” 

Nolan just barely smiles for a second, his lips flexing a tiny bit, and then he scowls and looks away.

TK’s still riding the high of getting this scowly bitchy dude to smile when Kevin gets within a few feet of them and talks again, his voice this goofy sounding Boston accent like TK’s only ever heard on TV. 

“Hey man, what’s up? I’m Kevin.” He reaches his hand out for TK to shake. 

TK steps forward and grabs Kevin’s hand. “I’m TK, nice to meet you,” he says, smiling and getting smiled back at without having to work for it. 

Nolan steps out from behind TK to stand next to Kevin, face flat. 

“Hope Patty didn’t scare ya too much,” Kevin says, hooking his arm around Nolan’s neck and pulling him in, which makes Nolan’s face get even more pissy. 

“Nope,” TK says easily, and Nolan scowls even more, which is just so fucking impressive TK wants to laugh. TK gives them both his biggest smile and just thinks, these two are never gonna get rid of him now. “I was just teaching him how to use an axe.” 

“He wasn’t--” Nolan starts, jerking out of Kevin’s headlock. 

Kevin lets him go and grins at TK, “And I missed the whole show!” 

TK laughs at his easy joke. 

Nolan elbows Kevin and gives him this look like Travis has seen wives give their husbands, this big-eyed, scolding “stop it.” Kevin raises his eyebrows and shrugs. TK wants to just keep hanging out with these guys--wants to get in on their jokes with them; help them fix this place up; make Nolan laugh again--but he decides to try to use one of the customer service skills Ryanne spent years trying to teach him and give his customers some space. 

“So if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just unload the things you ordered in the driveway up there for ya and let y’all get back to work.” 

Kevin opens his mouth, gets another fierce looking jab in the side from Nolan’s elbow, and then says, “Okay man, well make sure you come out and hang out with us again! Or hey, maybe we’ll see you at the store next time we’re in.” He dodges another elbow and cheerfully tacks on, “Thursday’s our normal day!” 

“I’ll definitely see you guys around, then,” TK says, smiling at Kevin, then, really purposefully, at Nolan, who’s crossed his arms now and is looking off over TK’s shoulder, lips pursed and scowly.

As he crosses the fenceline on his way back to the truck, TK pauses to brush some dead grass off his jeans. He’s always been sad to see pretty farmland like this go unused, or even worse, get sold off and developed, so it warms his heart a little to know that Kevin and Nolan are kind of moving the other direction, coming out here from the city and trying to take care of the place.

He crosses over the gravel driveway to his truck and pulls the tailgate open. Pulling the gate out is a little bit of a struggle, but TK’s used to delivering stuff to older people and unloading it by himself. He leans the gate up against the fence and puts the little round trough next to it, and then gently sets the carton of eggs inside of that.

He looks back to see Nolan swing at a tree again, Kevin watching from a few feet away. The axe whacks into the tree loud enough that TK can hear it even from all the way back here, and the top of the tree falls over. 

 

***

 

TK still feels weird calling his house, half a duplex in the middle of town, home. It’s been forever since he lived with his parents--shit, eight years or something, back before he graduated high school--and he likes his place just fine, but he still mostly calls it “my house.”

The house he grew up in, with its big backyard and family photos and signs with inspirational quotes hung up on the walls, still feels homier than TK’s place, and so what. He’s sentimental, and he likes being around people, and his parents’ house always has people in it.

Tonight, they’re having their first cookout of the year. It’s early April, finally warm enough to hang out outside and have it actually be fun, and his dad and his cousin Bo are grilling burgers and hot dogs while his mom and aunts lay out buns and condiments and potato salad. Lawson and TK are hanging out right next to the cooler full of beer, greeting people as they wander over to pull out cans, shaking melted ice off before popping them open.

It smells smoky and warm, and there’s kids laughing, and so many different conversations going on it’s noisy, and TK could just lay down in the barely-turning-green-grass and live here.

“We gotta take the fourwheelers out sometime,” Law is telling TK, sipping out of the can of Hamm’s his hand is wrapped all the way around. “Figure out where we wanna put our blinds and trail cams for next season.” 

They’ve been talking about this piece of hunting property Law just bought all winter. It’s all woods and creek, and Law got it from some friend of his dad’s who said he shot a 12 point buck out there last fall. 

“Yeah, man! Just lemme know when,” TK says, and then he hears Gavin’s cute little voice yell his name, and the solid weight of Gavin’s body slams into the back of his leg and two little kid arms wrap around his knee.

“Gavy!” TK says, twisting around and rustling Gavin’s hair. “What’s up, little buddy?” He nods to Ryanne and G who are right behind Gavin, Ryanne smiling and G looking basically nice. Less bitchy than normal.

“I’m wearing my shirt you gave me,” Gavin yells with all the energy and excitement that comes with being six years old (and that G always says comes with being TK, too: “working with you has just been practice for having a kid.”) 

“What! Let me see it, little man.” 

Gavin backs up and stretches his shirt out from his body, pointing to the printed picture of a moose. 

“Dude, it looks great on you!” 

“Hey TK,” Ryanne says, sliding a hand over TK’s arm and bringing her other palm down to rest on Gavin’s head. G softly elbows TK out of the way, and ducks to pull two beers out of the cooler, opening one and handing it to Ryanne. 

“Hey Gavin,” Lawson says, leaning down and holding out a hand for Gavin to high five. Gavin looks up at him with big nervous eyes, reaches a hand back to pat at his mom’s leg, and then spots one of TK’s cousin’s kids over across the yard and runs off. 

“He hates you man,” G says, sounding proud, and slaps Lawson on the shoulder. 

“Fuck off G,” Lawson laughs. “I know you’re telling him I secretly eat kids or some shit.” 

G and Ryanne smile and roll their eyes in sync, and then TK’s mom bustles into their circle, hugging Ryanne and then G. She asks them about business and how Gavin’s liking school and all this boring stuff, and TK stands next to Law and tries to look like he’s sort of paying attention. What he’s really doing is watching all the kids in his periphery, ducking backwards and catching one whenever they run by close enough, tickling them or ruffling their hair a little before letting them go. 

TK blinks back into the conversation when his mom says, “So I heard the Hayes’ grandson moved into their old farm! Have you seen him at all?” 

“Yeah!” Ryanne says. “He and his friend seem super nice, I think they’re really working hard on getting everything back up and running again. How’d it look when you were over there, TK?” 

“Really great,” he says, which is, like, a lie, but the thought of saying that they’re struggling doesn’t sit right in his gut. “Yeah, they’re really working hard.” Way less of a lie.

TK’s dad calls for his mom then, and she smiles and gives Ryanne one more little side hug before running off to help make space on the picnic table for the big plates of meat. 

TK rounds on G. "Yeah, G, so why the fuck didn’t you tell me about Nolan? And why’d you tell me his name was Patty?”

G groans and Ryanne smiles smugly. Law chimes in, “Wait, who’s Nolan?” 

“The buddy of the Hayes’ grandson. He doesn’t like his first name either so he told me to call him Nolan. He’s, like, so cool, and the same age as me probably. He told Kevin I was an axe murderer and I can’t believe G’s been trying to withhold my potential new best friend from me for, like, months.” 

“Ouch,” Law says, putting a hand over his heart.

“I knew you’d like him,” Ryanne grins. 

G rolls his eyes lightly, a smile curving his lips, his face all fond like when he looks at Gavin or Ryanne. “Teeks, please don’t scare off our customers. Why don’t you just keep bothering Law? We already know he can put up with you.” 

TK laughs and leans over to hit his shoulder against Law’s. “Obviously he’s my BFF, but he works too much and he gets mad when I come visit him.”

“Teeks, it’s a construction site--” Law starts.

“And anyway,” TK continues, “Kevin seems like a great dude, and I made Nolan laugh! Kevin told me they come in on Thursdays, so I guess I’m gonna trade shifts with Zach, and I can work on my lures on Wednesdays instead."  

“TK, you realize I make the schedule, right?” G says, but he’s half smiling, and TK knows he doesn’t really care whether it’s him or one of the high school kids who comes in to work. 

Ryanne rolls her eyes and pats G on the arm. “You don’t even have to wait that long, TK. They ordered goat fence that’s supposed to come in tomorrow, so you can bring that out there and see ‘em again.”  

“They’re getting goats?” TK asks, twitching with excitement. 

Law laughs and wraps an arm around TK’s neck. “Oh shit, now they’re never gonna get him outta there.”

“I wanted to tell ‘em that once you have kids, human or goat, TK’s suddenly just there all the time,” G grumbles. 

TK laughs. He’s not, like, embarrassed, because it’s just true: he loves both kinds of kids and he’s, like, not great at giving people space. 

Gavin runs by and G leans over and catches him, hauling him up and turning to head toward the food table, where there's a short line of people holding paper plates. 

“I’m serious about working Thursdays now,” TK calls after him. “You can’t stop me G!”

 

***

 

“So buddy I heard you're getting goats!” TK shouts across the driveway as Nolan wanders down from the porch where he was reading another stupid article, this time on how to put together a fence from rotted old posts and rolls of wire gridding. 

Nolan’s met what feels like a ton of people since him and Kev moved out here. But maybe it just feels like so many because it seems like he’s had to listen to every single one of them tell Kevin their whole life stories. There’s Leanne and Clancey from the farm a few miles down from them, who have five kids and 12 grandkids and 29 acres and brought over a freshly baked pie in their first week on the farm, like some kind of small town cliche; Ryanne and G and their store and kid and dreams of opening a farmer’s market, which Kevin briefs Nolan on every time he comes back from a trip to the store; Maggie the fucking mailperson, who spent twenty full minutes telling Kevin about her collage art the first time she came out with a stack of junk mail addressed to Kevin’s grandparents. 

Nolan barely remembers their faces or any of the shit they all told Kevin while Nolan sat back and scowled and kicked at the ground or fidgeted in his pockets. 

He remembers TK though: the cold metal water bottle he’d handed Nolan, how he’d somehow taught Nolan how to use an axe without making him feel stupid--maybe because TK seemed like he was such a fucking idiot that there was no way Nolan could feel dumb around him--how he’d said “I like your shirt,” and made Nolan feel self-conscious and nervous, and the exact way he’d said, “I need a little ponytail like you,” so sincere it was, like, weird. 

He remembers TK’s black truck, and he had recognized it pulling into the driveway, even before the door had opened and TK bounced out and started yelling about goats. 

“Yeah,” Nolan says, and that’s it. TK watches him for a second and then his eyes hop over Nolan’s shoulder to the house, then to the gardens, then to the field and probably to the line of trees Nolan still hasn’t finished taking down. 

“Well, I’ve got your fencing here so you can get all ready for ‘em,” he says cheerily, walking to the back of this truck, pulling down the tailgate. Nolan follows him and stands off to the side as TK starts to slide out a roll of the wire fencing. 

“Which field are you putting them in to start with?”

“That one,” Nolan says, without pointing anywhere.

TK just waits for a second, looking at Nolan all head-tilted half-smiling expectant, and then, when Nolan just stares at him, fucking says, “Oh cool man,” and smiles even more.

Nolan looks away, feeling the bitchy, tight press of his mouth that he really can’t help. TK twists and heaves a roll of fencing onto the ground and then goes to pull another one out of the back of the truck. 

He’s probably thinking Nolan’s an asshole. Well, whatever, Nolan is. He’s a bitch even to Kevin, who he, like, actually cares about, so why would he try to be nice to some dude who probably left last week and laughed to his buddies about Nolan’s flowery goat shirt and ponytail. 

When Nolan saw his big, old looking truck turn into the driveway, he had a second of being glad he was just wearing ripped black jeans and a flannel under his Carhartt, and then he had a way longer second of thinking, fuck that; wishing he was in the brightest, weirdest outfit he could put together without freezing his balls off.

It’s a thought that echoes a hundred others.

There’s this feeling, like Nolan’s spent his entire life turning other people’s ideas of him over and over in his hands, getting to know them. And when he left his hometown behind, went off to college, he’d started to dig his fingers in, taking bits off and adding pieces on until it felt right. In the city, Nolan had finally uncovered the shape of himself, but by then he could also see the ways Philly didn’t fit him like he’d hoped it would.

Being out here, in the fucking boonies, was supposed to help, was supposed to give him space. It did. It does, but, he realizes, it’s also put him right back at square one with letting people he doesn’t fucking know shape who he is.

Nolan is tired, so fucking tired, of giving control of what he wears, who he is over to people he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about.

TK huffs out a quiet, breathy grunt as he unloads another bundle, dropping it on its end in the gravel of the driveway, rustling up a little cloud of dust. 

There are four more bundles still in the truck, and Nolan just wants to get it done and get TK to leave so Nolan can try to get ready for his goats and finish having this, like, existential crisis in peace. He steps around the corner of the tailgate and reaches in to roll a bundle toward him, the wire stiff and harsh against his bare palms. 

He glances sideways at TK as they both work, trying to figure him out. He looks like a redneck but acts like Kevin, goofy and obnoxiously friendly. Seems like he could be wearing a MAGA hat but instead has on a snapback with a little fuzzy cartoon llama embroidered on it next to the words “you’re neat.” When he said he liked Nolan’s shirt, Nolan had thought automatically that it was a stupid joke about to be followed by a really shitty joke, but TK had just smiled at him, and then taught him how to chop down a tree. 

Nolan muscles the roll of fencing out of the truck and slams it down, and TK grins over at him, crooked and loose. “So how many goats are you getting?” he asks. 

“Six,” Nolan says, pulling another roll out. 

“Wow, really? That’s, like.” He pauses, twisting toward Nolan as he hefts a roll onto the ground. “That’s not that many, you know?” 

Nolan really, really doesn’t. The hot southern goat guy only ever had, like, five goats at a time in the background of his videos. And the articles Nolan read mostly said there shouldn’t be more than eight goats per acre, and he figured--based kind of on nothing--that the pasture was around one acre, maybe. 

But like, he’s been reading articles and blog posts about how to make money with goats, and more goats means more profit, probably. And Nolan doesn’t want to fuck around with six goats and look stupid if he’s actually supposed to have, like, thirty. 

“How many would you fucking have,” he says, trying to sound like he’s just being a jerk but kind of hoping stupid TK will actually maybe tell him. 

“Well, it depends on what fields you’re gonna use for ‘em. If you want to show me around a little I could tell ya. I mean, we do a lot of this kind of stuff, like, advising at the store, so.” He shrugs and sticks his tongue out, licking his lips. 

It’s so fucking stupid for Nolan to be feeling all weird around TK; to be so in his head about everything just because this weirdly chatty redneck said one thing about his fucking shirt two weeks ago. And dumb looking, hick TK is the last person Nolan’s going to feel embarrassed in front of, so he might as well try to get some stupid advice from him. 

Nolan pulls the last roll of fencing out of TK’s truck, then slams the tailgate shut. “Fine,” he mumbles, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets and jerking his chin toward the side of the house. 

He takes long, heavy strides across the driveway, and footsteps rattle the gravel behind him for a second before TK pops up in Nolan’s peripheral vision, bounding happily along like a stupid fucking dog. 

“I remember coming out here to do deliveries for the Hayeses. They were so nice, dude, I have this jar of pickles Nellie gave me the last time I came out here before they went to the nursing home.” 

Cool! Nolan thinks snottily. “I never met them.”

“Oh really dude? You were missing out. Coolest old people ever. Hey, what’s that?” TK points to a garden bed as they walk past it. 

“Strawberries.”

“Oh, awesome man! Super great choice for your first fruit.” 

Nolan grunts and just thinks, what, with this guy’s constant fucking talking and smiles and random compliments for everything he comes across. 

He pokes his elbow toward the second bed as they pass it. “That’s potatoes,” he tells TK.

“Oh yum! Hey I was wondering, where’re you from?”

Nolan grimaces for a second, then lets his face blank out. “Outside Winnipeg.” 

“Woah, man, I was born in Ontario! That’s awesome, I’ve like literally never met another person from Canada before.” 

Nolan is--a little surprised by that info. Usually telling people he’s from Canada is met with someone saying “oh cool eh” in this fake fucking Fargo accent. And Travis, with his light southern drawl and “y’alls,” really didn’t ping Nolan’s Canadian radar, although now that he says it, Nolan can maybe kind of hear a little Ontario lilt to his voice.  

“Uh, yup.” He stops by the small field off to the side of the house. “So here’s one of the fields.” he says stupidly, squeezing his fists tight in his pockets.

TK tilts his head and brings his hand up to rub back and forth over the gross scrap of hair on his chin. Nolan keeps his head forward and watches sideways as TK stares thoughtfully out over the field, then grabs the top of the fence post in front of him and leans his weight on it, forward and then back, and smiles over at Nolan when it doesn’t move. 

Nolan looks away; turns and stalks toward the back pasture. 

“So,” TK starts again, “you know Kevin from Winnipeg then?”

“No,” Nolan says. They cross the yard in silence, which is, like, a fucking miracle apparently.  

Nolan doesn’t talk when they get to the pasture, just jerks a shrug toward it and stares out over it. Still a fucking mess, half the trees in the back still standing; full of weeds; wooden fence rotted and gapped. 

“Well obviously you have to put the new fencing on, right? And you’ll probably need to replace some of the old posts, but we can do that pretty quick.” He says that so fucking simple--just putting it out there all happy and easy, we, like he’s Kevin or like he’s in this with the two of them or like Nolan even fucking knows him. “The goats will eat on the weeds and stuff, so you won’t have to worry about that. If you don’t mind feeding ‘em a little extra hay when they need it, I reckon you’d be able to have fifteen or twenty at a time.” 

Nolan keeps his face flat, trying to be cool even as his cheeks heat up.

“Well,” he says, his back teeth aching as he pushes them together. He thinks about saying, “I don’t wanna put too much stress on the land or the animals,” or some other line from one of the articles he read. 

Fuck TK, though, Nolan’s not gonna explain his shit to him. 

He says nothing and spins back toward the driveway, hoping TK follows him and just fucking goes so Nolan can be embarrassed on his own and maybe go leave a bitchy comment on one of hot goat guy’s videos. 

TK does follow him, but he keeps fucking talking. “Anyway, it shouldn’t take too long to get the field in shape. I brought the chainsaw I told you about, so y'all can finish getting rid of those extra trees today, and then just make sure your upright posts are steady before you put the wire up, okay? If there’s a bad one skip it until later. I can leave you my number if you want, that way you can text me if you have any more questions.” They get to TK’s truck, and TK opens the back door, and pulls the chainsaw out of his backseat--why the fuck--then holds it out to Nolan. “You need me to help you figure out--”

“No,” Nolan says, taking it and holding it down by his side. “We’ll bring it back tomorrow.” 

“Okay, no rush bud, it’s not a super hot item right now.” TK rummages around the backseat some more, laughing at his own barely-a-joke joke. His laugh isn’t annoying--it’s actually probably nice: his head tilting back, dark eyes crinkling; sound low and huffing--but Nolan’s annoyed by it anyway.

TK finally emerges from the truck, shuts the door and leans back on it, holding out a little Flying G’s business card. “I put my number on the back!” he says, like Nolan should be excited about this dude having found a pen, or whatever.

“Thanks,” Nolan bites, trying to make it sound like: “leave.” 

TK just stays where he is, though; one shoulder propped on the side of his truck, smile on his face. 

Nolan reaches up and runs a hand through his hair, taking a second to press his fingertips over his temple and rub them backwards, trying to release the fizz of tension building inside his skull. 

“Oh hey, I like your bracelet,” TK says, eyes wide and fixed on Nolan’s wrist, and Nolan has to actually look to remember what TK’s talking about. 

It’s a thin band of pale blue paracord looped into a square knot in the middle. Nolan’s had it on forever; he never really thinks about it. 

“My ex boyfriend gave it to me,” drops out of his mouth.

It’s barely fucking true. No way was Isaac anything close to Nolan’s boyfriend. They were fuckbuddies at best, but mostly, Nolan was just a booty call for when Isaac struck out at a bar and Nolan was lonely but not so lonely that he didn’t have the energy to leave the house. And Isaac didn’t really give it to him as much as Nolan saw it and liked it and slipped it off Isaac’s wrist and onto his own in the middle of getting fucked, and Isaac laughed at him and never took it back. 

It’s not, like, meaningful. Nolan just likes the color of it. He hasn’t thought about Isaac in fucking months; didn’t even think to include him in the group text he sent to his handful of Philly buddies saying he was moving. 

It works as a decent excuse to let TK know he’s not straight, though. To, like, maybe make TK stop fucking talking so much to him, maybe make him stop doing deliveries, if it's something that will be a problem for him. And either way, Nolan will know. If Travis comes back next week and compliments Nolan and won’t stay out of his business and shit, then Nolan won’t have to feel like he’s back home, popular with his friends and his teachers and his coaches, but only because none of them knew a fucking thing about him. He’ll know TK isn’t about to freak the fuck out on him if Nolan slips up and does something too gay or wears the wrong fucking outfit or whatever. 

TK’s eyes freeze and then flinch, jerking to the side and doing a couple quick blinks, and then he looks back up at Nolan, and grins

“That’s so cool, man!”

Nolan doesn’t know what to do about that except roll his eyes away from TK. 

“I bet he was like, ‘it matches your eyes,’ huh? Cause your eyes are kind of the same color.” 

He’s quiet for a second then, and Nolan doesn’t say anything either. He glances back up to see TK’s eyes jumping sideways; behind Nolan; to Nolan’s wrist; back to his face. 

TK says: “I love knots.” 

Chapter Text

Saturday afternoon, TK goes over to Law’s. He usually only ever hangs out with Law and Claire these days, which is totally great, because Claire is awesome, but today she’s covering an extra shift at the hospital. When TK gets to their place right as she’s walking out the door, she kisses Law on the mouth, then TK on the top of his head, and says, “Have a fun boys’ day!” 

Claire doesn’t always love going fishing, so he and Law pack up their poles and a few new lures TK wants to try out and drive out to one of the middle-of-nowhere ponds they like for catching pickerel. 

They stand on the bank, two coolers--an empty for the fish and one full of beer--between them.

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

Travis loves it out here.

Law is slowly drawing his line in, two fingers nudging the handle of his reel around. He glances over at TK, quick, and the corner of his mouth curls up.

That look is one TK knows well, and he’s smiling before he even knows what’s gonna come out of Law’s mouth. “What.”

“Remember when we came out here after junior prom?” Law asks, snickering. 

Travis laughs loud and easy, and that turns Law’s little grin into a laugh, too. 

“Fuck, we were so stupid.”

“Oh, we, huh?” Lawson shoves at his shoulder. “Who was driving, again? Who got naked and jumped in first?”

“Who jumped in right after me, bud?” 

Law snorts, and keeps reeling. They both watch as his lure gets close enough that they can see it swishing through the muddy water. “Good action on these ones,” Law says.

TK grins at the water, and starts twirling his handle, slowly reeling in his line. 

He lets his mind wander the way he always does when he fishes. He knows that for his dad and his grandpa and even kind of for Law, fishing is a way to blank your mind out, just stare at the water and think about nothing. For TK, it’s a way to give his thoughts room to spin out the way he doesn’t have time or space to pretty much any other time. 

He thinks about the walleye his mom’d fried a few nights ago when TK went over to his parents’ for supper, the new breading she’d used that TK’s been meaning to order online for himself and maybe also to stock at the feed store. His dad had told TK all about how he caught the walleye while they ate, and TK'd just kept thinking about how they always seem to be busy at opposite times these days, haven’t gone fishing together in a while. TK kind of misses it. 

He reels in a tiny little bluegill, soft yellow belly and wide black eye, and remembers how he’d caught one, back when he was only six or seven and his grandpa’d taken him out fishing for the first time, out at a pond just like this one, with his own tiny pole and nothing but dug-up earthworms for bait.

He unhooks the bluegill, tosses it back. Recasts. 

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

He wonders if there’s any fish left in that pond now, or if Nolan and Kevin are gonna restock it. He wonders if Nolan likes fishing. 

“You think people in cities go fishing a lot?” he asks Law. 

Law recasts, smooth arc of his pole, quiet hiss of his line, and then a plunk as his lure hits the surface. “Chase does, right?”

“Well, yeah, but he’s, like, not really a city person, you know?”

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

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

“I guess. Wow. Fuck, we’re old.”

Law cackles. “You’re old. I’m a fucking kid, man.”

This dumb joke fight is so well worn between them TK doesn’t have to actually say, “I’m one month younger than you” ; just has to look at Law sideways for both of them to crack up. 

They fish for another two hours or so, catching too-small bluegill and a pregnant bass and throwing ‘em back, drinking their beers slowly enough that they don’t get drunk from them.

That’s a change, too, although he doesn’t really know when it happened. Somewhere along the way, the beer became a sideshow, not the main attraction, and a single six pack became enough to carry the two of them through a whole afternoon of fishing. 

 

They’ve adjusted to different kitchens through the years, and moving around Law as he puts a pan on the stove and starts shaping burger patties is a familiar dance to Travis. He pulls the tray out of Claire’s fancy little air fryer thing and dumps a pile of frozen fries in, listening to the whir of the fryer and the sizzling of grease as Law presses his burgers down against the pan. 

He turns around, leans back on the counter, and rambles.

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

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

“So,” Law says, once the food’s finished cooking and they’re sitting down across from each other, Law propping his elbows on the table and raising an eyebrow at Travis. “How’s your new best friend?” 

TK rolls his eyes and Law laughs and then settles his face into this, like, serious sincere adult look. It’s a face Law’s only learned to do in the last several years, sometime between his first date with Claire, when he threw up on her prom dress in the backseat of TK’s truck, and his wedding day, when he looked at Claire coming down the aisle with a face that made TK--who was obviously his best man because, like, duh --feel all warm and fuzzy like he was in a Hallmark movie.   

“I love that you made a friend, though, dude. Like, I’m not actually jealous, you know?” 

TK kicks him under the table. “I know, buddy.” 

“Okay, good,” Law says, then takes a big bite of his burger and asks, “So, what makes him so great?”

TK has, like, a lot of thoughts on what to say to that, and they’re all thoughts he’s been not-thinking and also sort of constantly-thinking ever since he left the Hayses’ farm the other afternoon.

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

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

The thought fizzing to the top right now is: Nolan’s gay, apparently? TK doesn’t blurt it out, even though keeping it in makes his tongue feel too big for his mouth.

And then there’s this thought that he keeps reaching for and missing, that keeps sizzling away the same way the water does when it boils over and hits the burner on the stove, something that’s too big for words. He thinks it has something to do with how desperately he wanted to make Nolan smile and how good it felt to even have that be a challenge, a reward he could get if he worked hard enough. 

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

TK also felt, for once, like he wasn’t--and he can hear G’s voice here--just way overshooting the boundaries of normal conversation. Like Nolan wasn’t annoyed by TK talking too much. He definitely was annoyed, but it just kind of seemed like that was his baseline, and having TK following him around rambling didn’t seem to make it much worse, at first. 

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

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

TK could tell Law about all that, but it’d made TK feel like he had to show off, or something, and he doesn’t know what to do with that feeling now any more than he did then. 

What he’d done, in the moment, was run his fucking mouth about goats and gardening and any other thing he knew about that he could find a way to cram into the conversation. He knew he was being kind of obnoxious, but honestly, he’s been way more obnoxious before with the only possible payoff being, like, homemade jam--which was actually really fucking good, but that’s not the point. The point is that TK had been ready to do pretty much anything to get Nolan to laugh, or even just smile.

Nolan had been quiet, just giving TK these short, cut off answers to his questions, and sometimes not even words. He hadn’t--not for a single moment--given any hint that he gave a fuck what TK thought of him, but Nolan still helped unload all the rolls of goat fence and then took TK through the garden and to the big field behind it, vaguely gesturing to his and Kevin’s crops along the way.

Travis had been feeling good and smart and helpful when he’d told Nolan he could probably have more goats than he’d been planning. Nolan didn’t say thank you or anything, but he was from the city, so TK wasn’t like, super bothered. He’d figured he’d get a thanks for sure when he pulled out the chainsaw Nolan hadn’t technically asked for during the first delivery. TK’d brought it anyway, because he knew from experience that chopping down trees with an axe sucked ass. He was all, like, kind of proud, turning to Nolan ready to finally see him smile or at least look a little less cold, but he’d given TK this fucking look, and TK’d realized that maybe Nolan had never used a chainsaw before, or maybe he really didn’t want one, like maybe they were trying to do one of those low emissions farms or something, and TK had overstepped, again.

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

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

He could tell Law about how fucking dumb he’d been, all, “your bracelet matches your eyes,” and Law would crack up and say, “Oh Teeks,” voice somewhere between fond and mocking.  

But TK doesn’t know how to get to the bracelet without mentioning the ex-boyfriend thing.

Even if Nolan wasn’t worried, TK isn’t gonna tell anyone about that; not even Law.

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

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

TK’d never actually said the words “I’m bi” or whatever, to Law or Sanny or anyone else. He doesn’t really see the point, because he likes girls, too. Usually he likes girls more, and he isn’t even sure there are any guys in this town who could be into him anyways, since Sanny got a job on the coast and moved away a few years after graduation--so why make things harder than they need to be for himself?

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

Law grins, pausing with his now half-eaten burger halfway to his mouth. “No shit? Maybe y’all are long lost relatives.”

TK snorts a laugh into his beer. “I don’t think everyone in Canada is related, dude. Anyways, he was pretty quiet the two times I was over there but he just seemed like. Just. Really cool.” 

 

It’s still only eight when TK gets home. He and Law barely drank enough beer to get tipsy, and what little buzz he had earlier is long gone by now. He paces around his house a few times, opening and closing the fridge, looking at the varnish on the floor under the one dining room chair he always uses, wearing thin and losing its gloss. He should really refinish the floors, probably. Or like, switch up where he sits. 

He microwaves some popcorn and leans on the counter to wait for it, picking at the corner of the countertop where the laminate has started to peel off. He almost bought a big slab of granite Lawson had leftover from a project a few weeks ago, but it’d seemed weird to invest in a new countertop when it was just him here, and it wasn’t like he wanted to live in this little half-house for the rest of his life. 

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

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

That’s what he does tonight, too. Takes his popcorn out with him, snaps on the bright overhead lights and turns on the space heater, then picks up the little perch lure he’d finished carving yesterday.

He starts playing a new episode of his favorite podcast and picks up his airbrush. Sprays dark grey paint all over the fish’s back; white on its belly, and talks back to the podcast hosts every once in a while--“oh it was the boyfriend for sure ,” “check his truck, dudes,” “what the fuck?”. He clips on a scale stencil and switches the paint in his airbrush to green, and gets so into the podcast that he gets a little jumpy at the light noises filtering in from outside, just trees and cars and random dogs barking. 

Maybe he should get a dog. He’s wanted one forever, but he’d feel bad leaving it stuck in the house all day while he went to work. Maybe tomorrow he’ll try to convince Ryanne and G to get a dog for the shop, and then he can take that one home with him at night. There’s a very slim chance of it actually happening, but it’s worth a shot.

He finishes the body of the fish, shoves some popcorn in his mouth, and crosses the garage to clean up the airbrush while he lets the lure dry. 

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

It looks nice, once he starts painting the details on--super smooth and reflective, with a really realistic scale pattern. TK likes making lures--it’s, like, fun, and it’s always nice to talk to the people who buy them about what they caught with ‘em, and he’s done way better fishing ever since he started making his own lures. 

When he finishes the gills, TK paints a thick coat of sealant over the whole thing, and then cleans up and turns things off and heads in to bed. He sticks his phone under his pillow, and lets the episode replay. He makes it almost to the end again before he finally falls asleep. 

 

***

 

 

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

He loves working Sundays, because G and Ryanne almost always bring Gavin in to work with them instead of getting a babysitter, and usually things are pretty busy, so he can keep himself entertained with restocking and talking to customers and having fun with Gavin. 

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

“Maybe he’ll actually do that corn maze the boys keep suggesting,” Ryanne laughs and then hip checks him back toward the shelves he’d been restocking before he’d left to make the delivery.

Grabbing an abandoned block of birdseed off a shelf, TK makes his way down the aisles, straightening things up and setting out new items. It’s maybe kind of weird, but this is one of his favorite things: the click of the pricing gun, the weirdly comforting smell of bug spray from a bottle that came a little unsealed, just being around some of his favorite people.

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

When TK leaves Gavin playing with a couple of his lures from beside the register (no hooks on them, of course) and drags a rolling chair from the office up to the counter, G’s on his laptop browsing through one of their suppliers’ websites, but as TK sits down, he flips to the schedule and tips his screen so TK can see his name get switched with Zach’s.

“There ya go, you get to see your buddy again,” he says, raising an eyebrow. 

“Thanks, man,” TK smiles at him. 

“And, uh, I’m gonna be at Gavin’s parent-teacher conferences next week so, like. If it comes up, maybe tell ‘em... that-”

“Claude,” Ryanne says, in this tone of voice that means she’s only not rolling her eyes to be nice, from G’s other side. “It’s not going to come up.” 

“What?” TK asks, leaning way forward on the counter, his chest flat to it, eyes hopping back and forth between Ryanne and G. “What are y’all talking about?”

Ryanne arches an eyebrow at G like, go ahead

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

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

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

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

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

TK lets his forehead drop onto the countertop, and laughs into it, incredulous and a little hysterical. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Ry reach across to pat G’s arm.

Her voice is calming when she speaks, “It was an accident, and I’m sure you can clear it up with them later if they’re still upset. You’ll be fine, hon.”

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

“Jimmy! What can I get for ya today?” 

“Getting supplies for the ladies today, Travis. Two of these, please,” he says, slapping a leathery old hand down onto a big bag of goat feed, “Five bales of alfalfa and another bag of electrolytes. How’s your parents?”

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

“Oh, they’re doing great! I’ll get that all loaded up in the truck for ya.” He’s already up, giving the rolling chair a push to send it scooting back toward the open office door. TK snags a little pack of powdered electrolytes he’d only just stocked, then hauls one of the fifty pound bags of goat feed up and over his shoulder.  He thinks for a second and then puts the bag of electrolytes in his mouth, giving Gavin a grin that’s all teeth and holding out his empty arm for G to load the other feed bag onto.

G sighs and says “He’s feral, I swear,” but lifts it onto TK’s shoulder anyway. Arms curled up to balance each bag, TK backs out the front door and dumps it all in the bed of Jimmy’s old truck.

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

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

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

No name or anything, but the area code isn’t a Virginia one, and anyway, TK’s been thinking and talking about Nolan all week since he saw him last, so it's pretty easy for his head to go right there and figure out who the message is from. 

His fingers are twitchy with how much he wants to respond back right away, how much he wants to say, G told me he was kind of a dick to you, sorry man, but I swear I wouldn’t work with him if he was like that and I didn’t tell him or anyone else what you told me, just so you know. and Oh man I know so many people who’ve got goats, you asked the right guy. 

“Uh, sorry,” he says, when he snaps his eyes up and realizes Jimmy’s just patiently watching him and G’s giving him wide, “TK get your head out of your ass, there’s a customer right here and he is asking for your input ” eyes. “Here we go. Jimmy, I know ya love riding your lawn mower around, so let’s do Bermuda, okay? It grows fast so you can fill the field in by spring and go out there and mow once a week or so. Scott’s says it’s a pound per 500 feet, but really you can do more like 1000. So your field back there’s a half acre, right?”

Jimmy nods, and throws G a smug grin, like he got exactly what he wanted. TK types in a few numbers, then types them in again just to make sure he didn’t mess up, then tilts his phone screen toward Jimmy. 

“That’ll be two of the big bags. That sound okay?” 

“Can’t get that know-how in college classes, Travis.” Jimmy smiles and waves a hand, “Yeah, two’s good. Can you throw ‘em in the truck, too?” 

 

TK doesn’t respond to Nolan’s text until he gets home, because he’s, like, just about never in his life used his phone at work, and he wasn’t gonna start today, no matter how much he'd wanted to. Once the math was done, he had tucked his phone back under the counter, loaded up the rest of Jimmy’s order, and finished restocking, but he’s been thinking about Nolan’s text the whole time.

He could’ve just given Jimmy’s number to Nolan, but he knows Jimmy’s even worse about answering his phone than TK is, and that he likes to meet his buyers first, anyway. And that’s if Nolan wants to do dairy. If he wants to raise meat goats, there’s a farm a bit farther out of town that might be willing to sell some stock.

On top of all that, it’s been less than a week since TK’d delivered the fencing, and he definitely thinks Nolan and Kevin are capable of getting it put up, but maybe they haven’t yet. Maybe TK can help.

depnds on what kind u want, he sends back while he’s kicking his boots off, followed quickly by, hows the fence? need anymore posts or a hand puttin up the wire?

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

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

He grins and gets a little kick of excitement in his lungs when he sees the random 267 number hovering on his lockscreen.  

We have the fence up.  

TK hadn’t even really expected to get a response tonight, but he’s only got a moment to feel excited about the message and then disappointed that there’s no real reason to go see the farm again before another text pops up.

I want boer goats.

Okay, TK can totally work with this. He thinks for a moment and then taps out a response.

good work dude! i actually know a guy who sells those across town from ya. its kinda in the middle a nowhere tho so i could bring ya over with my truck and borrow a trailer from my buddy Law if you want

After he hits send, TK saves the number in his phone as nolan 🐐--he knows how to use emojis, thank you very much, Law--and eats his pizza. 

 

Chapter Text

The temperature out here isn’t really that different from in Philly--technically only a few degrees warmer--and they mostly get the same weather systems a handful of hours before they hit the city, but Nolan still feels like it’s warm and sunny and pushing through spring faster than he expected.

He’s taken to sitting on the back porch with his laptop when he’s not busy doing, like, manual labor. It’s nice to get research and planning done with the sun warming his shoulders and music coming through the open kitchen window, the soft breeze blowing in so different from the fucking tornado of cold wind that always spun around between the tall buildings in center city. 

It’s been nice, too, Nolan thinks, to sweat and move and blast whatever not-office-appropriate music he wants from his phone--tucked safely in his back pocket--while he stretched wire fence and hammered staples into posts. Pretty much the opposite of his old job, tiny desk and buzzy fluorescent lights that gave him a migraine a week even when he wore his bluelight glasses and took his pills every morning.

It’s been a week since Nolan’s seen a single other person besides Kevin; even longer than that if he doesn’t count the like thirty minutes TK was over last week delivering shit and rambling about goats like Nolan had asked for his opinion or whatever.

And Nolan’s all about not having to be around a million other people all the time. Like, that shit is one of the, like, six good things about being out here.

But obviously he fucked up by texting TK, who’s like a little kid, enthusiastic and working all hard to be friendly and helpful and ignoring all the You’re annoying signs Nolan’s been giving him. He’s, like, clearly never been out of his little backwater town; clearly never had anything bad happen to him except maybe the girl he asked to prom one year said no because of his ugly ass facial hair or something. 

So, whatever, anyways, super nice super genuine super pure-ass-idiot TK is Nolan’s fucking tour guide now, when all he wanted was a name of a goat farm so he could look them up and shoot them an email or something. He doesn’t want to look like a kid getting shown the ropes or like, third-wheel his own farm visit when TK inevitably is BFFs with this farmer, since it seems like he knows everyone in this tiny-ass town.

Nolan had never responded to TK’s offer to bring along his friend’s trailer. Out of everything he doesn’t want, Nolan definitely would rather not borrow something from a person he’s literally never met.

Nolan just asked, Whats the place called?

TK’d sent back, copperhill farm. if u wanna check it out we can og visit first!!

Nolan’s on the back porch still trying to figure out a way to get the goats without TK twenty minutes before he’s supposed to be coming by with his truck to pick Nolan up. 

He’d already looked up the farm they’re going to, as soon as TK texted him the name of it. They had a website, but all that it had on it was a picture of a goat, a phone number, and an address. He’s spent the last couple days googling every variation of “Virginia goat farm” he can think of. He figured there had to be one that you could just buy online from, one that delivered, one at least with a fucking Instagram page so he could get a feel for it before going out there, but apparently they’re so in the middle of nowhere out here there’s not even any farms with websites around them. 

Kevin wanders up from the garden, stomping mud off his boots at the top of the steps. Nolan sighs and shuts his laptop, feeling defeated and pissy. “I’m moving back to fucking Philly,” he tells Kevin, for, like, the thousandth time. “At least businesses there have functional websites.”

“Shut up, you big baby, and go get your goats.” He reaches into his pocket and then tosses his car keys to Nolan with a jingle. Nolan swats them away, and Kevin rolls his eyes and bends down to scoop them up. 

“I have a ride now,” he mumbles, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jacket (he’s dressed in his most plain, farmery outfit today--blue and grey flannel, bulky brown Carhartt, worst fitting pair of jeans he owns), “and where the fuck would I put goats in your car anyway?” 

Kevin’s mouth drops open. “You have a ride?” he practically fucking yells, completely ignoring the question. “What the hell, buddy! Who’s giving you a ride?” He grins and steps across the porch to punch Nolan on the shoulder and ruffle his hair at the same time. Nolan struggles to push both his hands away. 

“TK,” he bites, getting his fingers around one of Kevin’s wrists and pulling the hand in his hair away. Kevin slaps him twice more on the arm with his other hand, and then takes a step back to just grin down at Nolan like he’s a fucking puppy that learned a new trick. “Stop fucking being weird.”

Patty,” Kevin says.

Nolan glares out at Kevin’s gardens--all full of different sized bright green sprouts--and listens to Kevin give him shit about his “little goat dealing buddy” until TK’s truck rumbles into the driveway. 

Nolan jumps out of his chair and jogs down the steps and halfway across the yard, trying to get to the truck before Kevin can say anything else, but instead of just stopping and waiting like a normal person, TK puts his truck in park, turns it fucking off, and climbs out. 

Nolan tries to stop it, but it’s like walking a big stupid dog when it comes across a less big stupid dog and they both want to be fucking stupid together. Kevin clomps down the porch behind Nolan, and him and TK slap hands while Nolan crosses his arms and glares over TK’s shoulder. TK’s like a fucking cartoon of a small town boy, all, “How’re y’all’s crops doin’?” and Kevin’s chatty, telling TK all about his strawberry plants and how he’s working on planting pumpkins for a pumpkin patch and all this stuff Nolan didn’t really even know. 

“Hey, I know some guys doing a corn maze this year!” Travis tells him. “Y’all should team up or something, eh?” Nolan reaches his, like, listening to small talk limit and heads for the truck, climbing in the passenger seat and pulling the door shut behind him. 

It’s cleaner inside than he expected. A few receipts and straw wrappers on the floor, and a thermos and the metal water bottle Nolan drank out of that first day he met TK filling up the cupholders, but otherwise, it’s just bench seats and a fucking tape player and this, like, rustic old farm truck kind of smell he can’t really put his name on but is familiar from sometime when he was a kid; some memory that he’s pretty much totally forgotten.

Nolan glances out the window and watches TK and Kevin talk for another second, and then TK waves goodbye to Kevin and turns to the truck. Behind TK’s back, Kevin points at Nolan, narrows his eyes, and mouths something that Nolan isn’t going to bother deciphering anyways, so he just looks away. 

“Okay!” TK says once he’s in the truck, his voice loud in the small space. It was loud even when they were out in the giant open space of the field, too, but closed in here it’s just. More. He’s a lot of person. “Let’s go pick you out some goats.” 

Nolan refuses to return the giant smile TK gives him, and he refuses to say “woohoo! ” or whatever dumb shit TK obviously wants to hear.

TK just keeps smiling as he puts his elbow up on the seat and cranes his neck to look over his shoulder, backing all the way down the long, narrow driveway like it’s nothing.

“So are you still thinkin’ like six goats?”

Nolan clenches his jaw until it hurts. He’s pretty sure TK isn’t trying to be a dick. If he was, he’d have assumed Nolan was getting twenty goats, like TK said he could, and not six, like Nolan stupidly figured. 

He breathes out hard, forces himself to chill out, and mumbles, “Nah. Fifteen.”

TK pulls out onto the road. His thigh shifts as he presses down on the brake, then pauses for a second, arm up on the back of the seats, head fully sideways as he looks at Nolan, truck halted in the road for a moment before TK shifts it into drive. Nolan’s always been a little freaked out by places where he has to back out into the road--and Kevin’s just been turning around in the gravel up by the house--but there’s like, no traffic out here, ever, and TK’s clearly confident that nobody’s going to magically show up, because he keeps the brake pressed longer than necessary while he glances over at Nolan.

“Oh, that’s smart! Keep a little extra room for kids, eh?” TK finally turns his head forward and steps off the brake.

Nolan grunts vaguely in agreement.

 

He’s not lucky enough for TK to actually be quiet the whole drive, but TK doesn’t ask him any more questions, just points out houses and farms as they pass, narrates who lives at each place and what they do and who they’re related to. It should be obnoxious, but somehow it all makes sense, like TK’s drawing out a map of the town with markers that tell Nolan enough to decide who’s worth getting to know and who to avoid.

It’s the first time in the whole, if admittedly limited, time that Nolan’s been around him that TK hasn’t been, like, disgustingly friendly. He’s talking pretty much constantly, pulling his hands off the wheel to make big sloppy gestures, but he’s finally stopped practically vibrating with enthusiasm. Instead he’s slouched into his seat, tapping at the steering wheel when he’s not gesturing. He’s still smiling, too, but it’s settled into something small and relaxed that mostly sits in the corner of his mouth and his eyes.

As they pass through town, TK waves down a tree-lined road that splits off to their left, says “G and Ry live down that way,” and then cuts a look at Nolan, teeth worrying at his lip.

“Uh, cool?”

“He wanted me to say- Well, I would’ve said anyway once I heard what happened, but-”

Okay, Nolan’s revising his assessment of his luck today.

It’s a miracle that he hasn’t been too irritated by TK, because otherwise he’d be climbing directly out of the moving truck right now. He manages, barely, to keep himself seated and buckled in.

“Ryanne and G, they’re cool. G can be kind of mean sometimes, like. He made one of the part-timers cry once, back when he’d just bought the shop? And he never actually apologized, but he felt bad and gave her every weekend off till she quit a whole year later, never even called her in when we got slammed on Saturdays.” TK shakes his head.

Nolan’s still ready to bolt, goats be damned, but TK keeps fucking talking.

“Anyway, he wanted me to tell you he didn’t, like, mean to be a dick? Don’t tell him I said this, but. I think he feels kind of stupid for thinking you were Kevin’s... wife or whatever.” The last bit is slower and more hesitant compared to the rest, when TK had sounded like he was trying to speak as quickly as he could. It’s, unsurprisingly, the nerves in his voice that finally make Nolan settle back down.

He really doesn’t want to listen to TK fumble through any more details, though, or try to give Nolan some heartfelt, but absolutely unnecessary “it’s totally okay that you’re gay, dude” talk. 

The area that passes for “downtown” is just four one-way sections of road around the post office and the bank with the only stop signs in town at the corners. They stop, and Nolan sees a guy walking down the sidewalk, and before TK can start in on whatever he’s clearly thinking about saying, Nolan gestures to the dude and asks, “What’s that guy’s deal?”

TK cranes his neck to look, focused on his new task right away, eyebrows raised like this is an important question or one Nolan even slightly cares about the answer to. 

Nolan looks down at his hand and picks at his thumbnail.

“Oh,” TK says, and his voice has this little bit of shrillness to it Nolan hasn’t heard before. “That’s Ryan. He was in my class, saw him at parties and stuff. He’s, like, kind of a meathead. You wouldn’t like him, I don’t think.” Travis reaches up his right hand to scratch at his sideburn, blocking Nolan’s view of his face for a long second. 

Nolan looks back at the guy--Ryan. He’s big and fit enough looking, but he’s not, like, ripped or anything. He doesn’t look like the jock dudes Nolan used to work with, all showy muscles and tight t-shirts. He’s wearing jeans and a plain grey hoodie, and as Nolan watches, he holds open the door to the bank for a lady. Nolan grins.

“He looks like an asshole,” he tells TK, keeping his smile pointed out the window.

TK laughs. “Okay, well, ignore the fact that he’s helping an old lady right now and trust me, bud.” 

Nolan drops his smile and looks back out the windshield as TK eases the truck into moving again. 

“So, anyways,” TK says five seconds later, like he couldn’t stand that much silence. “That’s Mo’s, the bar. Probably not exactly what you’re used to in Philly, but they have beer and I guess food, so.” 

Nolan leans back in his seat and listens to the constant, quiet noise of TK’s voice, the sloppiness of his drawl, through the rest of town, and then as the houses get thinned out with fields. 

TK doesn’t seem to, like, mind that Nolan’s not saying much of anything. He seems happy with Nolan’s little laugh through his nose as TK tells a story about pranking his high school soccer coach when they drove past his house, his grunt when TK asks if Nolan’s okay with the music--moody, old school country, but whatever, it’s mostly tuned out by the wind whipping through the open windows of TK’s truck. 

Nolan’s feeling sleepy and loose, relaxed back into his seat and blinking slow, feeling the exact same way he remembers he used to get on long roadtrips out to the lake when he was a kid, going past field after field--soybeans, corn, cows, corn--feeling slowed down and syrupy.

It’s like an alarm going off when TK slows down and clicks his blinker on, and then turns into a driveway next to a “Copperhill Farms” sign.

TK glances over as Nolan jerks up to sit straight. “Excited, man?”

Nolan blanks his face out and nods. 

 

The goat farmer guy is younger than Nolan expected, maybe late 30s or something, dark hair with a bit of grey. If they met out at a bar in Philly, Nolan would’ve tried to get him to buy him a drink. 

TK greets him and introduces him to Nolan as Hank, and Nolan shakes his hand and holds his eyes, and then him and TK follow Hank across the driveway.

TK asks Hank a couple random questions about his family and how many goat kids he’s expecting this year, and Hank answers them back, voice low and smooth. 

“Here we go,” he says as the three of them come around the corner of a barn and end up right next to a penfull of baby goats. 

Nolan keeps his face as flat as fucking possible, blinking out at the, like, twenty baby goats and ten or so moms like he’s a professional and like he actually knows what he’s looking for and like he’s not just thinking about how he’s looked at hundreds of fucking Instagram pictures of this but the real thing is so much fucking better. Fuck, if TK or Hank knew he was thinking about Instagram.

He turns to Hank, who’s leaned back with his hands tucked in his back pockets, looking out over his fucking picturesque little farm, and asks the first thing he can remember from one of the lists he’d made of “how to pick healthy goats.”

“Do you select for parasite immunity in your breeding herd?” God, he feels like an asshole--too pretentious about something he knows fucking nothing about--and judging by the look that clouds over Hank and TK’s faces, he sounds like an asshole too. Fuck.

“I do.” Hank is frowning hard now. “Unhealthy bucks get wethered and sold. Same with does.” He says it all as if it should be obvious, because it probably is, because Nolan’s probably just asked a basic-ass question that shouldn’t need answering.

“Boer’s are not a heritage breed--there ain’t really many of those in goats--but this herd’s been around here in some shape or another for twenty-odd years now. We bring in Nubians and Kikos sometimes for diversity, but every new farm with a herd’s a chance to build the breed better. I’m not gonna sell you bad stock.”

It kinda seems like if Nolan asks another stupid question that makes him sound like some kind of city boy just looking for profit, Hank might not sell him any stock.

TK pipes up--and Nolan’s ready to sink into the earth now if this gets any more embarrassing, thanks--and gestures to the gate a few feet down. “Can we go in?”

Hank’s face softens a little as he waves them in, and then--fuck, again, so much better than Instagram and Youtube and all of it--Nolan’s scooting through the gate into a herd of baby goats and he’s running his hands over their little heads and backs and getting muddy little hoofprints on his jeans as they all swarm around him and TK.

One of the kids takes a running leap and parkours off TK’s thighs and he staggers back, grabbing on to Nolan’s arm for balance as he laughs. “Tell me about this little guy?”

And somehow, just like that, Hank’s face clears like clouds parting to reveal the sun, and he’s telling them which doe is the mom and her history of kidding twins and which does tend to have lighter colored kids and how he trades goats with other farms around the state to keep bloodlines from getting too closely related and which combination of kids and does would make a good starter herd for Nolan.

Before he knows it, an hour’s passed and Nolan’s actually been answering the questions Hank asks him without feeling like he’s entirely out of his element. TK chips in sometimes, but mostly just wanders around the little pasture with a trail of goats following him and chewing at his jeans.

TK and Nolan extract themselves from the herd, and Hank brings them into the barn to a little table with a stack of paperwork on it and gives Nolan a pen.

Nolan’s fingers are sweaty around it. It’s a huge fucking thing, and so much shit could go wrong. 

He just feels, like. Fucking stoked about it, though. He signs his name, and feels like he’s fucking doing something for the first time in years. 

He pays half up front--no useful website, but this guy takes Venmo??--and Hank says he’ll finish the paperwork and give Nolan a call in a week or so when everything’s ready and he can pick up his goats. 

TK waves goodbye to the goats, and he and Nolan both shake Hank’s hand again before climbing back up into the truck.

Nolan watches the farm shrink into the distance. His goats. Holy shit. 

 

The drive back feels like the last few minutes of the drive there, when Nolan was almost asleep, kind of. He’s awake and alert this time; still a little keyed up thinking about the goats, but everything is comfortable, relaxed. TK’s voice is drawling out next to him, asking Nolan which goat was his favorite, letting out a little “ope” when the truck bounces through a dip in the gravel, laughing low from the back of his throat at one of his own jokes.

The sun’s close to setting, and all the fields they pass look warm and hazy. It’s just--it’s a nice day.  

With the window down, Nolan’s hair is whipping around his face, won’t stay behind his ears. He rakes a hand through it and gathers the top half up with a hairband from his wrist.

TK just grins over at him and keeps telling a story about retiling G and Ryanne’s guest bathroom.

TK asks, “What do you even do out there other than rebuild fences and chop down trees?” and Nolan doesn’t even tense up.

He’s kind of getting the feeling that TK doesn’t do things underhanded. Like, he probably jokes around and shit, but if he wanted to be a dick, he’d probably just do it without trying to hide it.

So Nolan finds himself telling TK that he goes for runs and helps Kevin in the garden even though he doesn’t really get it.

“And I guess someone was cutting the grass around the front and the property line, because that’s where I’ve been running. Whoever did it must’ve brought their own lawnmower, though. The one in the hell shed is a piece of fucking garbage.”

TK splutters a laugh. “The hell shed?”

“The-- Yeah, the big one?” Nolan looks out the window, flushing. “There’s all kinds of rusty old shit in there. I called some mechanic, I guess, to fix the lawnmower, but we’ll have to tow it, and if they see the trailer it’s on, I’ll have to pay for that to get fixed too.”

“Wait, who’d you call?” TK asks him, over the clicking of his turn signal.

Nolan rolls his eyes, scoffing. “I dunno, man. The one with the least shitty reviews?”

“Ah, well, dad’s retired, anyway. Not like I gotta keep up with his competition anymore.”

And then TK’s off talking about helping out in the shop his dad worked at when he was a kid, and how his brother was always better at it and liked the work more.

When TK says he just liked helping people, Nolan snorts.

He should tell TK thank you for helping him, probably. For covering for him when he made himself look like an asshole with Hank, for driving him out here today and making plans to do it again next week, for making him feel easy and kind of soft in this way Nolan didn’t ever think he’d really be able to in a place like this. 

“I could tell that one easy enough, bud.”

 

***

 

Nolan figures he’s done with TK for at least a week until all the paperwork gets filed and TK works out a good day to borrow his friend's trailer. So, basically, he’s got a week to stress about getting ready for the goats, even though he’s already spent a month doing everything he can think of.

He runs every morning, half peering into the forest to look for fucking foxes or coyotes or wolves or whatever, half looking out over the fields, thinking about whether it’s enough space and whether the goats will be able to handle all the weeds like TK and an article Nolan read online both said they would. 

Every morning he tells himself he’s not going to do it again, but his anxiety has him walking the fences around the back pasture and the front field anyways, checking the new posts Kevin helped him put in and making sure all the wire gridding they nailed up is still secure. 

He’s stressing about it so much fucking more than he should. He can’t remember the last time he worked on something at his old job that he worried about this much. Maybe, like, his first ever press release, when he still thought the job would be something he liked; before he stopped giving a shit. 

It fucking sucks. He reads like thirty articles a day--not just basic “Top Ten Things to Know Before You Get Goats!” ones like what he started with, but, like, long, complicated ass rants on the ethics of worming and shit--and lays in bed every night worrying about all the ways he could fuck up--how he could get lazy or depressed or have migraines for a week straight and all his goats would starve and get too skinny because Kevin wouldn’t know how much food to give them, or how he could forget to water them and wake up and find them all dead in the grass; how maybe there’s too big of a gap in the back fence somewhere he hasn’t noticed yet, and he’ll wake up to a mountain lion just eating the goats one by one. 

Two days before he’s supposed to actually get the goats, he makes it into the afternoon before he finally gives in and goes out to walk the fence again. He shrugs on his denim jacket--it’s warm enough that he’s shoved his Carhartt in the back of the hall closet--and heads out back, stopping by the gardens where Kevin’s weeding, which is basically a constant job. Nolan bends down and yanks a tiny weed out of the dirt, then runs his fingers over one of Kevin’s precious little strawberry vines. 

“Looking good,” he mumbles, and Kevin beams at him. 

“Right? I’m pretty sure they’re gonna start having little baby berries on them soon. I was just thinking about these fuckin’, like, strawberry pickles my grandma used to make with green strawberries. I wish I could make them for ya; me and Jimmy used to just fucking gobble ‘ em up when we were kids.” 

“Sounds gross,” Nolan says, shifting so he’s half crouched, one knee pressed to the damp dirt, wet soaking through to his skin. 

Kevin grins at him, and starts to open his mouth to say something probably like, super sincere and dumb, and then they both turn their heads as they hear the grinding of gravel under tires in the driveway.

“Hey, company!” Kevin says to Nolan, all happy when he sees TK’s old black truck.

“Man, this guy,” Nolan groans, getting up and walking with Kevin towards the driveway. 

TK hops out of the truck already smiling. He introduces Kevin and Nolan to this big guy who hops out of the passenger seat, little canvas roll that Nolan figures must be full of tools in his hand. “This is my buddy Law! He fixes construction equipment shit all the time at work, so I asked him to take a look at y’all’s lawnmower so you don’t have to haul it out of the hell shed.” 

He looks at Nolan, still smiling, and tries to fucking wink.

Kevin loses his shit laughing. “Hell shed! Is that what you’ve been calling it, Patty?”

Nolan is really not into TK--or anyone, really--just showing up with no notice or invitation, and he’s not into having this big random guy on his farm, workboots and too-close looks at the soft, drapey tank top that shows half Nolan’s chest and that he definitely has not worn into town. 

But even though he still has no idea what TK’s whole deal is, Nolan’s pretty positive he wouldn’t bring some dude out here if he wasn’t, like, a decent person. 

So he halfheartedly shakes Lawson’s hand and lags just behind as Kevin leads the way back to the shed, chatting with TK and Lawson about the farm like they’re all best fuckin’ friends, telling them how his grandpa always sold tomatoes at a farmers market and how Kevin had already talked with Ryanne about selling fruits and vegetables at G’s in the summer, just all this shit. Law stays a little bit quieter than TK and Kevin. When they get into the shed, he crouches down next to the trailer the ride-on mower is sitting on and knocks the backs of his knuckles against the bare axle where the missing wheel’s supposed to be.

“Looks like a beater,” TK says.

“Reminds me of that old gator your grandpa used to have,” Lawson grins.

Kevin fucking laughs like he’s somehow in on the joke with them, not standing on the outside like Nolan is. Lawson asks him a few questions about the mower--Does it start? No. Do you have a spare wheel? No.--and then a few more technical ones that Kevin really doesn’t have answers to. Nolan definitely doesn’t either, so he keeps quiet, standing by the open door of the shed with his arms crossed. 

“Hey,” TK says, taking a step closer to Nolan and pointing to the wall. “Dude, there’s a scythe in here.”

Nolan makes himself not smile. “It doesn’t work,” he tells TK in his blandest voice, knowing it sounds stupid. How does a scythe not fucking work? It’s a blade on a stick. 

Just like Nolan figured, TK laughs, eyes crinkling closed. Lawson glances sideways and squints at Nolan. Nolan just raises an eyebrow.

Once Lawson’s apparently decided he’s got enough information, he lays down on the trailer the mower’s sitting on. “I’ll try’n get it started, but you’ll have to order a wheel from a mechanic,” he warns, then waves them away and slides under the body of the lawnmower. 

“Oh, dude, my dad still orders all the parts for our cars, he can get you one no problem,” TK says, sounding just fucking thrilled that he can be helpful, as they wander out of the shed.

“Tiki Bar. Dude. That’d be awesome!” Kevin crows.

Tiki Bar, Nolan thinks. 

“So how’s the garden coming?” TK asks as they walk along the field, TK and Kev trailing behind Nolan at first, then catching up, then walking just ahead of him as Nolan drags his feet. He wants to sit back down with Kevin and not have to worry about other people coming in and looking at him and joking with Kevin and making Nolan feel anxious about the fucking goats again for no reason. “Nolan showed me around the other day, but I didn’t get a good look at it.”  

Nolan rolls his eyes. Everyone in the world is obsessed with this fucking garden, it feels like. Nolan even came outside the other day to find the mail lady crouched down by it, squinting at a little leaf Kevin was propping up for her.

“Oh, buddy, you gotta check it out, come on. And hey, remember how I told you I wanted to do a pumpkin patch?” TK nods at Kevin, and Kev points down at the churned up dirt, grass barely trying to grow in it, that they’re walking over. “I was thinking it might work right here.”

“Oh, great spot for it. You know, if you want I could bring my four wheeler out. G’s has a little plow thing you can rent, so we could till this all up super easy.” 

“Dude! That’d be awesome!” Nolan’s waiting for Kevin to spin around and look at him, say something like, “Hear that, Patty? Told you we could do pumpkins,” but Kevin just doesn’t

It’s been a long time since Nolan’s wanted to have a boyfriend. He can spend pretty much all his time by himself and be happy with it, usually. It’s been, like, years, actually, since he really dated someone, and even that was just for a few months. 

He misses it now in this way that makes him feel stupidly alone, like everyone else has someone and he’s just him, pathetic and left out. 

When TK and Kevin veer to the right towards the garden beds, Nolan stays straight, his eyes fixed on the back door of the house. 

He shuts it hard behind himself, then stops and closes his eyes for a second instead of doing what he wants and looking out through the little window in the door. They’re doing their own shit; they’re obviously not going to be looking after him or coming in to see what he’s doing.

He goes back to the spare bedroom.

He and Kev shoved a bunch of shit in here when they first got to the farm-- a whole shelf’s worth of old fly fishing lures, a big family photo that Kevin swears he doesn’t recognize a single person from, a hard as fuck little throw pillow with “You are the sunshine of my life” embroidered on it, which they had to stick back here after it made Kevin tear up like four mornings in a row. 

There’s also just a bunch of random boxes that they found in one of the sheds and drug in here and haven’t had time to go through. Nolan opens one labeled “books” and starts sorting through a shit ton of fancy old plates, feeling grumpy and rough enough that he just wants to fling one at the wall.

He can’t believe he thought that about wanting a boyfriend. Like, he and Kev have never dated, never been into each other like that, and Nolan’s never had problems with Kevin having other friends before. 

He’s so fucking stupid.

There’s no reason for him to feel shitty or fucking jealous about Kevin talking to TK, or anything fucking else that’s happening. He knows Kevin’s not, like, replacing him--he knows. It’s just, like. Kind of like when he put his foot in his mouth back at Hank’s farm, except now, instead of TK covering up for Nolan, Nolan’s alone, inside, holding a bunch of fancy fucking china, the only one here who still doesn’t know what he’s doing, while all these guys with their work boots get actual shit done and don’t even notice Nolan’s gone.

 

Four boxes and like an hour later, after TK and Kevin are apparently finally done fucking around and becoming best buddies or whatever, Nolan hears the two of them and Lawson all come in through the back door, talking indistinctly to each other.

“Patty!” Kevin hollers, and Nolan grits his teeth and glares at the doorway. He sets down the old mixer he’d been trying to sort between the thrift store and garbage boxes, and stalks into the kitchen, where TK, Kevin, and Lawson are all chugging glasses of water like they just fucking ran a marathon. 

“Hey!” TK says, lips smacking. “Law got the mower started!”

Isn’t Lawson just the best, Nolan barely keeps himself from snapping. 

“How sweet is that?” Kevin says, turning to refill his glass. “Best service that old thing’s ever gotten, right?” Nolan doesn’t really need to see the grin Kevin is definitely giving Lawson. Lawson raises an eyebrow, but chuckles. Nolan just wants to yell at Kevin, You can’t fucking flirt with these hicks when you don’t even know them and what the fuck do you and TK even have to talk about, huh? and Maybe you should just fucking let him move in and I can fuck off back to Philly. 

Kevin gulps down his water, then refills it again. “So, I have a big old bag of chicken marinating in the fridge, and Patty toasts the best buns you’ll ever eat, so maybe you guys can--”

“Can you just write them a check?” Nolan cuts in. “I already ate while you were busy with your fucking garden shit, so.”  

Kevin finally fucking turns away from the empty sink and looks at him, eyes a little startled and sad, his stupid disappointed in Nolan look. 

Nolan swallows and stares flatly at Kevin, like Kev’s not going to be able to read exactly what he’s feeling anyways. Kevin knows him too well. He’ll know Nolan’s just being petty and jealous and that there’s no way Nolan would eat without Kevin--at, like, four o’clock--no matter how pissed he was. 

TK and Lawson don’t know shit about him though, and he’s already fucking embarrassed, and he’d rather they both think he fucking hates them instead of knowing how stupid he’s actually being. 

He glances sideways to give the two of them a bitchy look, lips tight and eyes harsh. Lawson’s got an eyebrow raised like he’d start a fight with him if they were out at a bar instead of in Nolan’s house, and TK’s frowning, eyes all wide and sad looking, studying Nolan. 

Nolan widens his eyes at him and shakes his head like what. 

“You know what?” TK starts, blinking away from Nolan and giving Lawson a look. “I think--Lawson’s wife Claire actually has dinner ready for us anyways, I think, so. We’ll just. Go get that. But thanks! That was nice to offer! And thanks for letting us come out and--.”

“Teeks,” Lawson says, low, cutting TK off. TK frowns harder, looking lost. “Let’s get out of here.”

Kevin doesn’t offer to walk them out or try to make excuses for Nolan or anything, thank fuck. He just says, “Okay, have a good night then, guys. I know you said you don’t want money but maybe I’ll make you a pie or something? You like cherries?”

“Yeah, sure man,” Lawson says, giving Kevin half a smile and waving, then glaring at Nolan one more time and wrapping an arm around TK’s neck, leading him out. 

“Bye Kevin, bye Nolan,” TK says, meek and quiet in this way that seems out of character even though Nolan barely fucking knows him.

Kevin doesn’t say anything, and he really doesn’t need to. They both know how Nolan is.

He doesn’t give a fuck what Lawson thinks of him. He doesn’t care that TK looked all sad and hurt. They can both fuck off and think he’s an asshole and, like, never talk to him again or whatever. But Kevin doesn’t fucking deserve it from him, doesn’t deserve for Nolan to fuck up his friendship with these guys. 

“I’m gonna finish weeding,” is all he says, voice baldly, blatantly hurt, and then he turns and heads out the back door. 

Nolan stalks back into the bedroom, picks up one of Kevin’s grandma’s old plates, and grips it so tight it hurts his hand. He blinks down at the ring of tiny pink flowers painted around the edge of it.

It feels like all Kevin ever does is take care of him--give him shit he needs, listen to him, draw  him out when he’s feeling like garbage and just wants to stay in his bed for weeks--and all Nolan ever does is act shitty. 

He hasn’t even told Kevin how happy he is to be out here. How thankful he is, or whatever.

He takes a big, heaving breath, and sets the plate down, then tugs open another box. 

 

It’s the stupidest fucking apology. If he could just fucking say, “sorry, I fucked up,” and not sound sarcastic it’d be so much easier. Instead, he warms up lasagna Kevin made them two nights ago and sets it in the middle of the kitchen table, next to the wooden recipe box he found in the bedroom.

Nolan had looked through it to try and figure out if it actually belonged to someone related to Kevin or if it was just some random garage sale shit. He found the gross-sounding pickled strawberry recipe Kevin was talking about that morning, and the cinnamon bread recipe Kev’s been whining about and trying to recreate basically the whole time Nolan’s known him. He stuffed both recipe cards--in barely legible cursive--back in the box so Kevin could find them on his own. 

Kevin comes in right at six, just when they usually eat. He pauses when he sees Nolan sitting at the table, and Nolan should just. Fucking tell Kevin how much he loves him, how good it feels that he doesn't even have a second of wondering if Kevin's about to go back to his room and ignore Nolan.

Kev shucks his jacket and boots off, then comes and stands across the table from Nolan. 

"If those guys did something actually sketchy you'd tell me, right?"

Nolan traces a groove in the table with one fingertip. "Yeah."

"So, they didn't, right?"

"No."

Kevin sighs and runs a hand over his beard. "Patty, I really think you should apologize to TK, then. He was telling me all about how you guys are buddies and shit, and I think you hurt his feelings." 

Nolan scoffs. Okay, maybe he’ll think about that later, but, like, when doesn’t he need to apologize to at least one person? It’s fucking classic Kev, though, not even thinking Nolan owes him an apology. He hasn’t even looked at the table yet. Nolan is fucking trying here.

"Yeah, okay. Hey." He flicks the edge of the box, and Kevin finally glances down at it. “I think I found your grandma's recipe box.”

"Holy shit, bud! You did! Fuck." He yanks out the chair across from Nolan and settles down into it, pulling the box toward him and tipping the engraved lid back. 

Nolan shoves a bite of lasagna into his mouth so he doesn't smile at Kevin staring into the box like it's full of fucking money or something. 

"Dude," Kev breathes, pulling out a recipe at random. He reads it over quickly and grins. "Patty. I can't wait to make this for you." 

He puts the card down on the table and slides it toward Nolan. Nolan rolls his eyes and picks it up, squinting at the shitty writing. 

3 cans fruit cocktail, 1 jar mayonnaise, 1 container cool whip. 

"The fuck."

Kevin tips his head back and cracks up, and Nolan flicks the recipe card back at him, rolling his eyes. 

"There's a bunch of other gross shit in there I'm sure you're gonna love," Nolan tells him. 

Kevin grins at him. Picks up his fork and scoops lasagna into his mouth while he picks out another card. "You're the best, baby cat," he tells Nolan, simple and sincere like that's actually at all fucking true. 

Nolan picks out another notecard and reads it out loud to Kevin.

Chapter Text

TK is quiet for as long as it takes to get the truck out of the driveway and moving down the road.

It’s like, shell shock, or something.

His mind is whirling, spinning so fast he can’t grab at a single thought. His foot is gentle on the gas, his hands steady-ish on the steering wheel, his eyes focused on the road, and then his brain is just a tornado of nothing. “So the garden looks good, right? Kevin’s been workin’ hard on it, he’s done a lot.”

TK can still hear the staticky rushing wind of his thoughts, can feel it making his fingers twitchy, so he rolls down the windows to match. The wind on his face has always helped him relax, like noticing it soaks up some of the extra whatever he feels like he’s always got sloshing around in his head.

“Everytime I’m here, they got more done--the fences, the garden. The inside of the house looks like they did a lot.”

Law’s been watching him--quiet, still--from the passenger seat. TK gets a flash of memory: them in the same truck, same seats, on a different road after midnight, headlights rattling down the asphalt ahead of them, Law watching him, quiet, still.

He blinks, and it’s light outside. They’re not teenagers, and they’re not leaving a party, but that’s about where the differences stop. TK still let his mouth and his too-big heart get him in trouble again. Law helped him get out of trouble again.

One more difference: His hands aren’t trembling this time, but they might start.

"Pull over." Law's voice is low, but TK jumps anyway.

"What? Did you forget something? Your toolkit?" He can practically see the words flying out of his mouth, pinging off the glass around them, where Law’s were steady, sturdy like the old, worn-soft leather they’re sitting on.

"Teeks. Just humor me. Pull over."

They’re still outside of town, surrounded by farms and trees, and TK’s not gonna just park in Leanne’s driveway and not expect her to come out and ask questions, so when the shoulder widens up, he pulls off the road and puts the truck in park.

Law watches TK’s hands tapping the underside of the steering wheel, then closes his eyes for a second and breathes a little sigh, like he’s making a decision. The whole storm of TK’s mind swirls down to a single point, and he knows what Law wants to talk about. 

“Can you tell me what happened back there?” Law holds his hand up, cutting off whatever was about to come spilling out of TK’s mouth. “Kevin was chill. Nolan was okay. I want to know what happened while I was fixing the mower.”

TK chews on his lip and he looks at the steering wheel, traces the logo in the center. He hesitates. This isn’t the first time Law’s seen someone get annoyed with TK, but it is the first time he’s made TK walk him through it. It’s not that he minds; he just doesn’t really know what to say.

He wishes he had someone to walk him through it.

“I don’t know.”

TK isn’t looking, but he knows the way Law’s mouth is tugged down at the corners.

“We- Me and him and Kev were walking back to the house, and Kev was telling me about the pumpkin patch he wants to do,” he pauses and pulls in a breath. “And we went to look at the garden and like, mark out where I’m gonna use the tiller for him, and Nolan went inside. Kev didn’t say anything so I figured he was just getting water or something.”

There’s like, nothing to do with his hands, and TK’s leg is starting to bounce, and he just doesn’t know what he did that pissed Nolan off.

Law squints and tilts his head a little bit. “That’s it?”

He sounds surprised, and TK’s hands grip tight on the wheel. It’s not that he thinks Law wouldn’t be on his side, ride-or-die, no matter what, but TK is fucking confused and hurt and it doesn’t really feel great to dig into what he did wrong.

Law must see some of that on his face, because he, like, visibly softens and his voice is apologetic when he says, “No, sorry, dude, I didn’t mean to imply that you’re not telling me something, or whatever. I don’t think you did anything. Like, at all.”

The thing is, TK can think of a million different little ways that he’s probably been too chatty or too invested or too much since he met Nolan. He has those moments--although he usually doesn’t recognize them until he’s right in the middle with no way out but through--with almost everyone he knows, so it’s not great, but it’s not really surprising. But he’d thought Nolan didn’t really mind, that he and Nolan were actually friends, especially after the trip to Copperhill.

When TK had dropped Nolan back off at him and Kevin’s farm, he’d been all excited about Nolan. He was quiet, and a little trickier to get to know than a lot of people from town, but Nolan had seemed a little happier to be around TK every time they saw each other, and TK had thought they’d really started to, like, get each other--or, like, that Nolan was starting to like him, at least. He’d let TK help him out with Hank and laughed at two of TK’s jokes and told TK about some of the things he was worrying about on the farm and trusted TK enough to practically fall asleep in his passenger seat. 

TK feels so fucking stupid. For texting Nolan “that was fun today :) ” the night after they went to Hank’s; for begging Law to come fix the lawnmower and rambling to him the whole drive over about how much he was gonna like Nolan. 

“You know how I can be, like. A lot, though. And I just brought you over out of nowhere, even though I know he’s shy, so--” 

“I swear to fuck, Teeks--” Law cuts himself off, frustrated. “Whatever his fucking problem was, whoever pissed in his cornflakes, it’s not your fault.”

“I mean, he probably wasn’t tryin’ to be mean, though. He comes off all like, grumpy, but I think--I don’t know, sometimes he’s just joking.”

“Oh, so he was just fucking around?” Law asks. They both know it’s not really a question.

“I mean…” TK hedges.  

“Teeks, no. Has he been like that the whole time? No, don’t actually answer. I already know, because if he’d been mean the whole time, you wouldn’t like him.”

TK bites his lip. A car crests over the hill in front of them, headlights painfully bright for a second before they pass. “He was probably just having a bad day,” he says, and it sounds weak and stupid.

Law scrubs a hand over his face. “Does G ever treat you like that on a bad day? Do I?”

"I-- no." And it's true. They buck up and tell him when they need quiet, or space, and trust him to be able to respect that, because he’s him, but he’s also an adult.

Law and G aren't immune to being annoyed by him, but the security of knowing they won’t actually be mad at him makes it easier for him to back off when he needs to, instead of clinging tighter and tighter like a tangle of wet rope.

And, yeah, TK does really want that with Nolan: wants to hang out with him and help him build shit for the goats and make him laugh and, like, figure out more about him, but he’s been trying, and apparently he misjudged how much progress he’d made.

It makes him feel old and painfully young at the same time, like he’s back in school watching himself try way too hard to be liked but unable to stop, and like he’s suddenly seeing clearly how bullshit it is to not just say when someone’s annoying you, and also like he still really wants to be Nolan’s friend anyway.

There’s, like, two wolves inside him, or however it goes. Maybe three.

“What--” TK falters. “What should I do?” 

Law gives a “try harder ” look that TK remembers from trying to steal Law’s homework answers basically every day when they were in school.

“You know Claire would have my hide if I made that decision for you. But. I’m going to ask you to think real hard about this.” He gestures vaguely back toward the farm. “Think about yourself for one singular minute of your life. Think about what you want and if it’s worth letting him act like a fucking child to you. I know you think you’re too much or what the fuck ever. And yeah,” He grins, but it’s soft, kind of sweet, “you’re an annoying little shit sometimes, but you’re the best guy I know and I can literally always count on you.”

 

***

 

When Kevin goes to the feed store on Thursday, Nolan goes with him. 

It’s half because of Kevin looking at him with his stupid big eyes and going all, “You gotta talk to TK, Patty,” and half because Nolan actually does need to talk to TK about going to pick up the goats, because Hank called and said they’d be ready Sunday.

And, okay so, maybe Nolan doesn’t want TK to think he’s a complete asshole.

He doesn’t really know how to apologize for catching TK in the crossfire of his own emotional bullshit, though. It’s not like he can just do something like he did with Kev--he doesn’t even know TK or what would be like, both nice enough and tolerable--and what the fuck is he supposed to say? "Kevin thinks I hurt your feelings, so, sorry, " which is stupid, because Nolan knows he kind of did. Or “If you still want to eat with us, Kevin’s gonna make chicken pot pie tonight and soup tomorrow, and then Saturday we just order pizza but whatever day is fine.

Fuck no.

He spends most of the drive tapping his thumb on his kneecap and looking out the window, trying to figure something out. 

When Kev turns into the parking lot, Nolan finally gives in and, still looking as far in the opposite direction from Kevin as he can, he mumbles, “What would you say to him.”

Kevin makes a thoughtful noise. “Maybe, like, ‘Hey, I know sometimes I suck, but you can ask Haysie, I’m actually a decent guy.’” He smacks Nolan on the thigh, and then continues, a smirk obvious in his voice. “‘Also I wanna be goat dads with you.’” 

Nolan turns an irritated glare on Kevin for that last bit, even though he knows Kev’s basically immune to it these days. Kev’s teased him before about his hookups, and he’s poked back about Kev’s, but there’s like. Way too much shit going on in his life to even think about thinking about a relationship. He’s bad enough at friendship.

As soon as the car’s in park, Nolan flings open his door and stomps across the parking lot, eyes on the rain-dark asphalt in front of him, getting the fuck away from Kevin to, like, make a point or something.

He slows down by the doors, though, because, yeah, it makes him feel like a fucking kid grabbing the corner of his mom’s jacket, but he doesn’t want to walk into this place, this whole fucking thing, by himself.

“Patty,” Kevin sighs, coming up next to Nolan and rubbing a hand up his back. “Come on, I know you know how to be a nice guy. Just gotta get out of your head.” He knocks his knuckles on Nolan’s temple, then turns and opens the door and lets Nolan walk inside ahead of him. 

He has to look around a little bit, but Nolan finds TK kneeling in one of the back aisles, stacking cans of dog food on the shelf in front of him. 

“Hey,” Nolan mumbles from the end of the aisle, voice low. 

TK jumps a little and looks over.

“Hey!” He starts to smile, then stops abruptly, and starts again, but it’s blatantly stiffer; filmy. Nolan feels like he’s back at the office, talking to one of the interns that’s been there long enough to know not to bother with a real smile for him. “Were you lookin’ for something?” 

You, but he’s not going to fucking say that.

“Paint” is what he goes with instead.

There’s a part of Nolan’s brain that he’s trying hard not to listen to. It’s been throwing red flags at him since he doubled-down on bitching TK and Lawson out of the house the other day. It’s kind of been screaming warnings at him his whole life, though, so he’s got practice ignoring it in favor of smaller, more immediate alarm bells, like:

Shit, TK’s gonna ask what he’s painting, probably all excited and with a surprisingly helpful opinion on the color. Nolan could say his bedroom or the kitchen--which wouldn’t be a bad idea, actually, with its horrifyingly egg-yolk-yellow walls.

But then TK just says, “Oh, nice,” all fucking mild, pushing himself up to stand. He’s a lot, like, shorter than Nolan. Somehow Nolan’s never really noticed that before. 

It suddenly feels super obvious now that TK’s said maybe eight words to him in this blandly cheerful customer service voice that--unlike every other person on the planet--is somehow less friendly than his normal voice. 

He follows behind TK, out this aisle and down another one, and then stops next to him when he gestures to a tiny bit of space on one of the shelves. There are three colors of spray paint: neon pink, neon yellow, neon orange. 

Nolan flushes fucking thinking about saying he needed to paint his bedroom and not realizing that this is the fucking paint they have here. 

He’s quiet for too long; he knows that. And TK’s still not fucking talking either. Not like Nolan wants TK to talk all the time, but driving out to Hank’s and that first day they met and the other night when Nolan was such a dick, TK just always filled in the gaps Nolan couldn’t. Like that second day he came over, when Nolan showed him around the farm and told him about his plans for goats, and TK had gotten Nolan to tell him where he was from.

He’s not even supposed to be fucking getting anything here--when he’d asked Kevin if he wanted Nolan to take half of the list, Kev’d told him, “I got the shopping, Pats. You get TK”--and now here he is all in his head about fucking paint when he hasn’t even said anything to TK. 

“This is all we have here,” TK finally says. “If you want house paint you’re gonna need to go to, like, Walmart or something. Closest one’s a half hour west?”

The way TK makes it a question--as if Nolan doesn’t know, hasn’t been to the Walmart--sends a wave of embarrassed heat through him. 

Nolan grabs a can of the orange off the shelf, his hands feeling too fast. He shakes it a couple times, listening to the little metal ball clack around inside.

“So,” he says, staring down at the label, his whole face warm. “Kevin wanted me to tell you he’s making--”

“Oh, there you are, Trav.” Nolan turns, flushing even hotter, to find Ryanne at the end of the aisle. “Mrs. Anderson is here and she can’t remember what food her cats like, but she says that you know.” Ryanne smiles fondly, and Nolan, standing there all pink, holding a stupid can of spray paint, doesn’t have the brain space right now to think about TK being Trav and being probably the only person in the world who knows what type of food some little old lady’s cats eat. Ryanne smiles at Nolan, then back at TK. “I can grab it for her if you just tell me?”

“Nah, it’s cool. I gotta hear about Buster and Whisper anyways,” TK says, already stepping around Nolan, slapping a hand on his shoulder blade for the shortest piece of a second, like it’s muscle memory, a habit formed from maneuvering around people TK’s known for years in this cozy little shop. “You’re all good, right?” Nolan nods, because what the fuck else is he supposed to do. “Great, Ryanne can check you out then. Have a good day.” 

“Can you still help me with the goats?” he blurts out. It’s not that, like, he can’t probably rent a trailer or ask Kevin to ask Clancey or someone to drive them out to get the goats. But, like, if TK doesn’t even want to help him with that, when he’d been so excited about it all the times they’d talked before, then Nolan’s fucked up maybe more than he knows how to fix.

TK gives him a look that Nolan can’t even begin to read.

“Yeah, of course,” he says, sounding, like, actually genuine. Like it was stupid of Nolan to think that TK wouldn’t still want to do him a huge ass favor even after Nolan was a dick to him. 

Nolan can’t stop feeling Ryanne looking at them. “I guess I’ll text you,” he mumbles.

TK walks down the aisle. Gets a look from Ryanne that Nolan, again, can’t read, shakes his head at her, and then turns away. 

Ryanne looks after him for a minute, and then turns to Nolan and gives him a tight, sharp smile. “Come on up to the front whenever you’re ready,” she says. Her voice is still polite but there’s no warmth left in it, and then she turns and walks away too. 

Nolan watches the empty end of the aisle, like maybe TK will pop back up and grin. It’s fucking stupid. He turns, puts the spray paint back on the shelf, and stares at it, feeling every second of the silence TK hadn’t filled.

His heart’s been in his throat for the last several minutes, but Nolan can practically feel it sinking all the way to his feet as the way he just got dismissed sets in. 

Nolan wasn’t really ready for any of this, but he’s definitely not prepared to fix something he’s broken this badly. Instead of trying to figure that out, he focuses on how the get the fuck out of here.

He’s torn between like fifty different things that all seem equally embarrassing: not buying paint and having Ryanne notice or buying paint and having to tell Kevin what a dumbass he is; following Kevin around the store like a little kid with hurt feelings or leaving without buying anything and waiting in the car; waiting around and catching TK’s eyes again or waiting around and not.

It’s probably, like, the shittiest option, and it makes him feel fucking weak, but he ducks his head down so he doesn’t have to look at Ryanne or TK or fucking G, who he hasn’t even had time to fucking worry about yet, and walks out, shoving the door open with his shoulder and flinching at the little bells that jingle when it opens and closes. 

Luckily Kevin’s all the way bought into fucking small town life, so the car’s unlocked, and Nolan can sit in it with an arm crossed over his ribs and think about what a fuckup he is, and how TK was the only new person in years who’d been nice to him more than once; who’d still liked him even after Nolan was bitchy the first three times they saw each other. 

He thinks about how he fucking liked TK smiling at him, telling him jokes, being loud and big and obnoxious, and how TK’s customer service voice and fake little smile today felt like a slap.

 

***

 

After they get home from the feed store, Kevin leaves Nolan alone for few hours, then recruits him to prep vegetables for dinner. 

Nolan’s mostly done, only has an onion left to peel and dice and not cry over, when Kev finally asks how his conversation with TK went, as if it’s not obvious that the answer was “absolutely fucking terrible, thanks.”

He tells Kevin that, glaring through the onion-tears building up in the bottom of his eyes, and then sniffles his way through Kevin’s “That sucks, man. Are you gonna try again? It seemed kinda busy at the shop today.”

Nolan just shoves the onion bits into a bowl and into the fridge, drops the knife and cutting board into the sink, and ditches Kevin.

Nolan’s not really used to--he doesn’t really have a lot of practice trying to be nice. 

He’s mostly spent his life trying to cram himself into a mold that didn’t ever seem to fit him, always too pretty or too nervous or too quiet, until he eventually gave up and learned to close himself off first, before he could start to care about people who didn’t get him, didn’t like the compromise he’d found with his body and his brain.

The last friend he made was Kevin, and it was years ago now that Kev had wormed his way in. But living together, and then being friends, only really worked because Kevin would let Nolan’s bitching about everything slide right off his back like it was nothing.

When Nolan tried to pick this big fight like three months into knowing each other about how the smell of Kevin’s laundry detergent gave him migraines--it did, but only when Nolan wasn’t paying attention and used it instead of his own--Kevin just said “Oh, sorry bro, I’ll switch it up,” and then started doing their laundry together with unscented stuff. He and Kevin worked because Kevin took one look at Nolan’s face any time he got home from a shitty day and knew exactly what to do with him: he’d say something like, “Go straight to bed dude, you look evil right now”; or he’d toss an Xbox controller at Nolan and go, “Think you can kick my ass in Fortnite, baby cat?” 

TK’s not like that though; most people aren’t. Nolan knows that if he doesn’t do something different, TK’ll decide that trying to be friends with Nolan’s a waste of his time. 

And he doesn’t want TK to decide that.

Nolan still doesn’t know enough about TK to do a good apology thing like he did for Kevin, but he knows TK loves fucking talking. He’s obviously noticed how TK’s, like, obsessed with being helpful and telling Nolan everything he knows about goats and farming and the town and whatever else he thinks of. 

By the time Kev hollers about dinner being ready, Nolan has scrubbed his hands and his face, sulked, and made up his mind.

“I’m gonna text TK,” he’d told Kevin as they sat down to eat. Now it’s almost an hour later, and they’re sprawled on the couch, and he’s spent an embarrassing amount of time planning, then typing, then rewording and rewording and rewording his text to TK. 

Kevin gives him shit about how long it takes through the first period of some Bruins playoff game Nolan couldn’t care less about because the Bruins fucking suck. “Don’t hurt yourself over there,” “Dude, I still can’t believe you’re this bad at feelings,” “Just send him a bunch of emojis, he’ll get it.” 

He shoves himself across the couch into Nolan’s space during the first intermission, and then spends the second period glancing between the TV and Nolan’s phone screen.

“Patty,” he says seriously as the Bruins get scored on again. “Just send it man. You’ve barely changed anything all period.”

Which is not true--Nolan’s got the same basic question, whatever, but he’s switched up his last sentence and uncapitalized all his I’s and taken the apostrophe of goats’, so. 

“I’m sending it, fuck off,” he says, and then hovers his thumb over the screen for another few seconds before finally fucking doing it.

whats up. i know i don’t have to actually do it for a while but i’m fucking freaked out about trimming the goats hooves, have you ever done it before? i thought maybe you could help me.

It’s really, really not something that should be that hard, but, like, fuck, does Nolan hate being vulnerable like this. 

He shoves his phone between the couch cushions and stares at the TV.

“Hey,” Kevin says, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “If he doesn’t like whatever you say then fuck him. I mean, you were a dick but you’re trying, and you don’t want to be friends with someone who doesn’t know how to deal with that kind of thing, right?” 

Nolan pushes his lips together, and he doesn’t want to say this but he does want to talk about it, and Kevin’s, like, one of the only people who really gets this part of him, so. “The first few times we talked he didn’t really care when I was, like, quiet or whatever, so. I think I just pushed him too far. I mean, he is funny, and whatever, so maybe I shouldn’t have fucked everything up just because I was being stupid and in my head.” 

It’s true, even though it’s so embarrassing and soft that Nolan can barely stand to say it. TK’s weird and annoying--or, like, Nolan had been telling himself he was just weird and annoying, but going to the store and having him be all cold and quiet and sad had felt fucking shitty, and it’d made Nolan realize that he didn’t just want to apologize to make Kevin happy or to make it less awkward when TK took him to get the goats or brought out deliveries. He kind of, like, maybe actually wanted TK talking a lot and trying to make Nolan laugh and shit. Kind of actually wanted to hang out with TK more.

Patty,” Kevin says, huge stupid muppet smile pointed at the side of Nolan’s face. 

Maybe.” 

“Dude.” 

Nolan’s phone vibrates, noisy enough that they can both hear it. “What did he say?” Kevin asks, all giddy, before Nolan even has a chance to unlock his phone. 

Nolan elbows Kevin and tilts his phone away to read TK’s message.

hey whoever this is please give nolan his phone back

Funny.

He bites his lip, because now that he’s replied, Nolan knows he has to just send his shit and not spend an hour typing it. That’s probably a good thing. It feels fucking terrible.

Look I know I was a dick and I’m sorry or whatever. Can you just answer my question.

TK’s reply comes back quick, too.

🙄 im off the clock

Nolan scrubs a hand down his face, and Kevin, who’s using, like, as much self control and respect for personal space as Nolan has ever seen him, staying leaned away from Nolan and not trying to peek at his screen, puts a hand on the back of Nolan’s neck and squeezes. 

look I know you’ve been really nice to me and I’ve been shitty so if you just want me to fuck off then whatever, but, like, I kind of liked hanging out with you and I know you didn’t deserve how I was hte other night.

There’s a long pause--like, four minutes--before TK’s next message.

is this seriously not kevin?

Nolan frowns.

“He thinks I’m you,” he says, and Kevin cackles.

No

TK’s typing bubbles come up for a second, then go away. Nolan clutches his phone so he won’t miss it vibrating, and stares at the clock counting down on the game. It takes three minutes, and then there are two vibrations in quick succession.

well thanks then

i liked hanging out with you too when you weren’t a huge dick

Nolan’s muscles unlock, and he lets himself slump sideways into Kevin so Kevin can maybe see his screen as he types.

Sorry.

Also do you know if there’s anywhere good to fish out here?

 

***

 

Nolan’s crouched down by the pond near the front of the house, dragging his fingers through the cold murk of the water, squinting into it to try to see any hint of a fish, when he hears tires over gravel down the road.

There’s not many people that drive out here: kids going too fast late at night, the mail lady, Leanne and Clancey from next door, and sometimes their kids coming out to drop off a carful of grandkids. TK. 

Nolan stands up and runs his damp fingers through his hair, trying to keep his shoulders loose. 

TK pulls just into the driveway and stops right by the pond, then swings out of his truck and nods at Nolan as he goes around to open the bed and pull out two fishing poles and a tackle box. 

When Nolan’s mom called this morning, he’d let her talk for a while about a case she’d just finished up and Maddie’s new boyfriend before she asked about him and Kevin. He didn’t tell her everything about TK, but he talked about the farm and Kevin’s garden and how this guy from the feed store was helping him get goats. Then the phone got handed to Aimee for a minute, and he told her, “There’s this dude I made hate me that I’m gonna go fishing with today, so that’s gonna be awkward.”

He knew when he was saying it that Aimee would know it wasn’t just small talk; that she’d get what he means. She’s been like that forever, super smart and fucking nosy and too perceptive. It’s a mostly annoying thing in a little sister, but right now he’s just grateful.

“Well if you don’t want him to hate you maybe try being nice? Like, ask him questions about himself or something. Don’t just stand there and look bitchy the whole time. And get better hobbies than fishing.” 

Nolan turns around at the sound of leaves crunching behind him.

“Hi.”

TK smiles at him, brighter than at G’s but still kind of toned down.

“Hey, how’s it goin’? Any signs of fish?”

“No,” Nolan says, stilted. 

TK nods and frowns at the water, eyes big and searching.

“Well,” he says after a second. “I brought some worms for us to start with, cause, y’know, pretty much anything’ll eat a worm, and then I brought some lures we can fuck around with if we want.” 

He crouches right at the edge of the water, setting his tackle box down and flicking the latches open. 

Nolan looks down at the little trout stitched into the front of TK’s hat and tries to think of something to ask him other than fucking, “Where’d you get that hat.

He tucks his hair behind his ear, takes the rod TK offers him, and tries to school his face into something less stupid.

“Hey, so, I wanted to talk to you,” TK says once they’ve both had their lines in the water for a while. “Because I’m, like, not a big texting guy? But I want to make sure I, you know, respect myself? So, cards on the table, you made me feel like shit the other night. Like, that was a dick move. And I think you know that?” He pauses for just a second, lets it sit, but it doesn’t feel like he’s waiting for a response. Nolan is grateful. "We don’t have to do a whole thing about it, okay, but if I’m pissing you off or whatever, can you just tell me next time? I deserve that much, and that way I can leave or try to stop or tell you to fuck off and quit being such an asshole.”

Nolan’s flushed, like fucking always, and he’s staring at the point where his line disappears into the pond, but he cuts a quick glance over at TK.

He doesn’t get how TK can just say stuff like that, straight from the heart or whatever. TK is looking at him, and it’s like eye contact is a physical thing that TK catches and holds. He’s grinning, wry and a little self-deprecating. Nolan steels himself and wrests his eyes back from TK’s just enough to watch TK’s hands on his reel instead.

“Yeah, I can do that. And, uh.” He grinds the words between his teeth, gritting them down small enough to fit through the sieve of his anxiety. “It wasn’t you. I was just being shitty. Like, generally. Shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

TK’s hand goes up, tucks his hair behind his ear, and Nolan’s eyes follow.

He watches TK’s eyes crinkle and mouth tip up at the corner, like they’re made for it, and Nolan feels a sizzling shock of regret that he prevented that, kept TK’s face from existing as it should.

Their eyes catch again, and TK hums a little, tilting his head as if to say “Yeah, that’s true,” and then smiles and reels in his untouched line.

“You wanna keep going with worms or try somethin’ a little fancier?”

Nolan feels a small, relieved smile grow on his face, and he reels in his line as TK turns and digs through his tackle box. 

“I got these little guys,” TK offers, looking up at Nolan and holding out a pair of wooden crankbaits, obviously hand painted. Nolan’s pretty sure they’re the ones he’s been eyeing at G’s. There’s this blue and red and oilslick purple one he wants to buy if he ever goes in there and manages to not end up too embarrassed to actually check out. 

“Oh, man, cool. Are those from G’s?” He’s not, like, a fucking nerd about lures like his dad and his grandpa, but these are nice --clearly made from wood, hand carved and painted with all these details--tiny scales and a pattern around the eyes, a stripe up the back. 

“Yeah, they’re the same ones we sell there! Well, these haven’t actually made it to the shop yet; I liked the paint job too much to sell ‘em.” TK laughs a little awkwardly and ducks his head back to the tackle box, feeding his line through the hoop on the top of one of the lures and tying it off, smooth and practiced. 

“I--” TK made them. Nolan honestly can’t fucking figure out what to say about that. “Wow.” 

TK glances up from where he’s still crouched, smiling and wiggling the other lure a little until Nolan takes it. 

Nolan holds it close to look at, running a finger along the smooth curve of the belly, careful to avoid the hooks. This one is a little teardrop shape, painted bright yellow with a stripe of green along the back and a shimmery scale pattern catching the light as Nolan rocks it back and forth in his hand. 

He stops himself from telling TK, “I can’t believe you made this,” thankfully, but he honestly has to take a long minute to wrap his mind around it: TK sanding wood until it’s so perfectly smooth; airbrushing all these tiny details onto this little lure a quarter of the size of Nolan’s palm. It’s not showy like some handmade lures Nolan’s seen--all flashy colors and too-intricate details, like something that should be on a shelf instead of in the water. It’s just--just really pretty, and also, really something Nolan wants to fish with.

TK’s smaller than Nolan, but he doesn’t really seem like it. He’s got a wide, stocky body and an even bigger personality, and. Okay, Nolan’s not like, looking, but he sees the way TK’s shirts cling to his arms and his shoulders. He’s not a dainty guy, and it seems wild that he’d be able to do something like this, that he’d want to spend his time doing this.

Nolan can’t see it.

Or, like, he’s having a hard time visualizing it, but he can see how he could see it if he’d been paying better attention to TK, if he wasn’t always so wrapped up in his own head.

He maybe thinks it would be nice to see it.

“You can use one of these instead if you want,” TK says, standing up and gesturing to the tackle box at his feet which is full of store bought shit that Nolan suddenly never wants to use again 

“No, this is--This water’s pretty murky, and I figure if there’s anything in here it’s probably bass, so. This is great.” He unhooks his worm and tosses it into the pond, then carefully reties his line around the little crankbait. When he finishes tightening it--fuck, he doesn’t want to accidentally lose this bait--and looks over, TK’s watching him.

He looks away as soon as Nolan notices, casts his line out into the pond with a smooth little plunk, and then reels in slow and steady. Nolan does the same.

“It moves really nice,” he says, before he can even think about how much it makes him sound like his dad. He blushes, but figures he might as well go ahead: “Your lures at G's are really cool. I was gonna buy some next time I came in.”

It’s not like he thought TK was, whatever, stupid before; he just thought he was a hick. And, like, making fishing lures doesn’t make him less of a hick--kind of makes him more of one--but it makes him more something. 

TK smiles at him for real--big and wide and crinkly--and tells him, “Thanks, man,” so simple and easy. 

They both get quiet for a while; just cast over and over again and listen to the water. Nolan watches his lures swim toward him, and thinks about TK. 

He knows he should just listen to Aimee and ask TK what kind of wood he used for the lures or how his day at work was or whether he watches hockey or something, and obviously he’s misread this shit before, but it kind of feels like TK’s fine if Nolan’s quiet. It doesn’t feel like he’s waiting for Nolan to say something, or waiting for a chance to talk about himself. It’s just kind of--easy. TK just standing next to him, slight smile tilted on his lips whenever Nolan glances over, just makes Nolan feel good, in a way Nolan really didn’t think he’d get to have after fucking things up a couple days ago.

They don’t catch anything or even have any bites, so after a little over an hour, TK hums, and keeps his line in instead of recasting. 

“I’m pretty sure there’s nothin’ out here, man.” 

“Maybe your lures just suck,” Nolan says, and then bites his lip and looks over to check TK’s face. “Not really,” he adds, so fucking lame, but it makes TK grin at him.

“No worries, I got ya. If you ever wanna restock out here I know a guy, but if you don’t wanna deal with all that right now, I can take you to some of my other spots, sometime, show you how good my lures are.” He grins, crooked. 

There’s a lot of things Nolan wanted when he moved out here--space and air and nature--and things he’s glad he got--routine and something to own and care about and care for. He’s realizing now that he never even thought about making friends until he almost wasted his chance.

If he was Kevin, or TK, he’d probably say something like, “I’m glad you didn’t give up on me” or “Thank you for being better than anyone I thought I’d meet out here.”

“Yeah,” he says, “okay.”

 

***

 

TK turns slow into the driveway. The gravel out here is pretty well maintained, and the trailer is secure and everything, but Nolan is all tense and jumpy in the passenger seat. He's pretending like he’s not staring wide eyed in the rearview mirror every time they go over a little bump or a little chorus of bleating floats in through the rolled down windows.

TK smiles. He does a turn in the driveway and backs up so the door of the trailer is right by the big gate leading to the pasture, and then he puts his truck in park, and turns it off.

“Home sweet home,” he says, smiling back at the trailer full of goats, and then at Nolan.

Nolan lets out a sigh like he wasn’t sure they’d make it to the farm. TK kind of wasn’t sure they’d make it here --sitting in a cab of his truck smiling at each other, TK feeling happy and Nolan looking happy and no tension between them. 

“Yeah,” Nolan says. “Thanks.” 

He looks over at TK, and TK gets kind of stuck on his eyes for a minute, thinking--he doesn’t know. Stupid shit: he’s gonna be so good with the goats; fuck I’m happy he moved out here; I can’t believe I almost didn’t get to know him, almost didn’t get past the other day.

He’d thought Nolan was great even before he knew anything about him except that he was TK’s age and had a cute goat shirt and seemed really cool. Now he’s had to add loves going for runs in the forest and got a fourteen point buck once and has opinions about lures and really really loves baby goats to the list of things he likes about him, and it’s just so fucking much. 

“Let’s show your goats their new home, eh?”

Nolan gives him a smile, and fuck, it feels like winning something. 

“Yeah.”

Chapter Text

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.