They don’t fuck at camp because that’d be ridiculous. And besides, Travis has dibs on the top bunk of Cabin 4 for the next decade and he’s pretty sure Nolan would like, hit his head and complain incessantly if that ever did happen.
Point is, they don’t fuck at camp and Travis doesn’t even think about it because child care is exhausting and he’s too busy thinking about how to get out of canoeing every night to sneak off to Nolan’s bunk across camp. So whatever. Logistics and timing work against him.
They don’t fuck at camp, but back at school Travis becomes obsessed with it. Not like, the sex part. Also that. But moreover, Nolan in general. It’s becoming a problem.
He’s never even verbalized these feelings. And Nolan probably doesn’t feel the same way. Moreover, they don’t fuck at camp because TK’s crush is massive and embarrassing and futile and he’s the human embodiment of an emotionally unintelligent rat.
What happened was Travis needed a job. It’s not exactly an inspiring tale. He didn’t realize a life goal of aspiration. He needed money and his mom said What about camp! and Travis had snorted because Mom, that’d be so stupid I dont even know how to camp and then it’s three months later and he’s frantically shoving shit into a duffle because he’s late for staff training and getting fired before he event starts sounds horrible and like something Lawson would never let him live down.
He tries to calm his breathing in the car. It’s just scout camp, he reminds himself. He went to it when he was a kid. Like once, with Lawson, when he was 6 and he’s pretty sure he ate a worm and made his counselor cry, but – He’ll be fine. He has to be.
In contrast to the world ending approach Travis takes, staff training week is painfully fine. Travis edges through everyone’s initial awkwardness with each other, falling easily into conversation with most people. He likes Carter and his baby-faced pleasantness and the unaffected smiles he replies to TK’s jokes with. Ivan and Kevin are both funny and know what they’re doing in every aspect of the job, but even still Travis doesn’t feel off-centered. It’s just as stereotypically Boy Scouts and he hoped in that way.
Nolan is quiet at first. He’s all quick glances and furrowed brows and all the cliches of what would probably be dark and mysterious. But here in the Pennsylvania sun, his hair is light and his eyes bright and his skin so pale as they begin to practice lifeguard drills.
Travis didn’t know exactly what compelled him to, but on the job application it asked if he wanted to be lifeguard certified and Lawson, peeking over his shoulder in their dorm room, was like Bro remember that scene in the Sandlot with the hot lifeguard and he checked the box. Because the Sandlot is amazing. And so is the lifeguard bonus.
He likes the water though. He likes the slide of sand beneath his toes as he wades into the lake. The quick shock of cold is a bright contrast to the early June sun enveloping the rest of him.
It’s an easy, calming feeling being out here. Light settles softly on the water lapping against the shore and the wind rustles cattails and overgrown wildflowers poking out from the where the thicket of forest meets the lakefront.
Travis has always liked nature, obviously, but it feels different out here. It’s simple in a way he hadn’t thought it would be.
Nolan is one of the two returning lifeguards, so it becomes his job to help train Travis and Carter. His voice falls flatly in a wonderful monotone that Travis wants to laugh at. He’s saying things like passive drowning and call 911 in a nonchalant boredom. It’s a fantastic contradiction.
He’s good at his job, though. Travis wouldn’t tell him that outright, but Nolan is thoughtful and concise. Every move he makes in the lesson is measured and when TK’s grip slips during a drill with Carter, Nolan says again insistently until Travis understands how to fix his movements, how to be better.
He’s kind of intense – Nolan, that is – but Travis likes him instantly. Travis likes everyone here. But he really likes Nolan.
Travis and Nolan get paired together almost every session after that. Sometimes with Carter or Ivan, one time even Kevin. But always the two of them.
They move almost in tandem and it doesn’t matter that Nolan is soft and sweet where Travis is loud and brash. They don’t play good cop, bad cop or work apart. It’s an easy balance between them both, one which makes TK’s face flood with heat when he dwells on it after the fact.
Out on the lake, time passes differently. The soft roll of hours ticks past as sun beats down on his shoulders, and Travis feels his whole body ease.
Everything is light here. The stars under the moonlight. The snap of children laughing. The July sun poking through the pines.
On the lake, things are easy, as in simple. Things are different , as in pleasant. The rolling tide buoyed with cattails doesn’t discriminate. In their presence Travis can be. It doesn’t matter that he’s loud , that he’s brash , that he’s queer . The tadpoles scurrying away from his gliding strokes cannot hear the jeers which always follow him. Out here, he is a mass which cuts across the light and wades against the current.
Out here, he just is.
The air that fills his lungs is light and uncomplicated in ways which twist his heart pleasantly and settle sweetly within him.
When he looks across the dock to Nolan, hands roaming slowly across his body to rub in an extra layer of sunbum and eyes lazy with pleasure and content, Travis thinks he understands. He thinks he is not the only one to feel this way.
On their next break, Travis drives Nolan to the closest point of civilization to load up on Slushees and candy and goldfish. It’s somewhere between Travis rapid fire mixing every slushee choice and Nolan insisting cherry, bro. That’s the best flavor. Sorry you just have shit taste and him grabbing TK’s wrist in the cab of his pickup to stick his bright red tongue out that Travis realizes he might have a problem.
Nolan is a camp song specialist. Apparently.
Halfway through the summer, Carter has prohibited Travis from sitting anywhere but with him at dinner. Nolan humpfs about it as they finish showering that night.
“You have attachment issues, man,” Nolan is telling Carter.
“Me? I have the attachment issues?” Travis is seated on the sink counter, flossing and watching Carter raise a pointed eyebrow to where Patty’s drying off in the shower stall. “You know what they say about people in glass houses, Pats.”
“Whatever, you just don’t want to get dared by TK anymore and won’t admit it.” Nolan’s flushed deep red as he steps out. And listen, the water pressure here really isn’t that good. Travis won’t think about it.
“I have no shame,” Carter smiles back pleasantly. He springs the same one on Travis after TK’s dared Nolan’s table to speak in pirate voices for the rest of the meal. Whatever, TK’s dares are the best.
As summer ticks to a close, Travis finds himself increasingly unchill about leaving. It’s not logical. He misses his parents, and his big soft bed, and even his brother. He misses fishing with Lawson and playing video games with Lawson and just being with Lawson. No sane person wants to continue dousing their body in bug spray just to go walk to take a piss, or wake up consistently at 7 am to hang out with 6 year olds. But god help him, Travis doesn’t want to leave.
Carter and Ivan go to neighboring colleges and will probably hang out and go to the weird concerts Carter likes together. And Patty’s starting college after his gap year at the same place as Kevin. And they’ll probably hang out all the time and be best friends and Travis is miserable just imagining it.
Right before the final session begins, Travis grabs Nolan’s wrist as they’re sorting out their roster.
“Patty,” he says helplessly. Nolan’s face remains blank, but his eyes dart out to meet his, an edge of nervousness around the rims. “I don’t wanna leave.”
By the campfire Nolan leads the kids in songs. They’re the same ones from all summer and Travis finds himself singing along without thought. It’s not the first time he’s realized how quickly he’s come to love it here, but it feels different in the echo of cicadas and flicker flame of their last cookout. Nolan is eyeing him idly across the fire pit and the way Travis’ cheeks heat have nothing to do with his proximity to the flames.
Travis is helping the last few boys assemble s’mores and sneaking his own bites of chocolate that he almost misses the steady whine of one of the campers about it being their last week.
“You should sing that song,” one of the kids tells Nolan, grubby hands already invading his space. Nolan isn’t even phased, simply adjusting his body to make room for the boy and leaning in closely.
“The one from last year. The one you always sing at the end of camp!”
Nolan smiles sweetly, eyes flicking to Travis. “Sure, bud. Whatever you want.”
Travis remembers the quick envy he felt watching Nolan at the start of summer. He remembers how when Nolan would talk, everyone would listen. How kids already knew his name, burst out of their minivans to scream Patty! Patty! Patty! He remembers the easy way Nolan interacted with the campers. His poise does not falter still as summer wanes.
Nolan’s voice isn’t bad, it’s softer than Travis always expects it to be. He doesn’t mumble as much as he sings. “You can sing it with me first,” he tells the kid. “Then, we’ll do it all together. That alright?”
Everyone agrees quickly because everyone loves Nolan. As aloof as he might have seemed to Travis initially, he’s soft and easy around the campers. Everything he says and does seems to come so naturally, with such an ease that Travis is still equal parts jealous and endeared.
Travis hums through the song, but he can feel Nolan looking at him with an increasingly focused gaze.
Hmmm, I want to linger. Hmmm, A little longer. Hmmm, A little longer, Here with you.
Travis is steadily looking at his feet, at the marshmallow Kendall is quickly burning, at the fire ant heading towards his water bottle. He’s trying not to look at Nolan because:
It's such a perfect night. It doesn't seem quite right. That this should be my last with you.
The song ends and Nolan says, “Alright, all together this time.” There’s a crowd of half their campers at his feet, rapt.
It’s stupid, really. This time Travis looks back at the open, soft smile Nolan quirks at him. Nolan says Hmmm, And as the years go by, Hmmm, I'll think of you and sigh. This is goodnight and not goodbye and Travis thinks his heart is going to implode. Something is happening in his chest and he doesn’t want to think about it, so he shrugs the dirt off his lap as he stands and calls, “Shower time!”
In their cabin that night Nolan is the same, quiet and spacey and two seconds away from passing out. Ivan is still in the shower, probably fretting over his hair. Ivan doesn’t like hanging out in bathroom after lights out with them as much as Carter. He’s too sensitive over his hair.
“I liked the song tonight,” Travis says from his bed. They’re in the platform tent this week and Nolan’s rolled the siding up so Travis can see some of the stars from his bed. There’s a soft breeze rolling through the trees, too. The air is light and fresh and Travis feels truly and deeply happy in his bones.
It smells like pine and wood and must, no matter how much lavender body wash Travis rubbed on his skin in the shower earlier. He’s not sure he’ll ever forget the smell.
“Huh?” Nolan grunts as he throws his sneakers outside.
“The song tonight. Uh, at the campfire.”
“Oh, yea,” Nolan hums, sliding into bed. “Girl Scout song, ‘m pretty sure. My sisters used to sing it all the time when they were at camp.”
Nolan’s smiling to himself, a short and private quirk of his lips.
“Gross,” Travis teases but it sounds weak to even his own ears.
“Go to bed, Travis,” Nolan says shortly. Travis obeys.
Camp ends and Travis goes home in a blinding tunnel of exhaustion. Four days later he packs up his truck and drives back to school. He didn’t know what it would be like to miss a place like this, to miss the people and the feelings he had there.
The party is loud and the walls licked by remaining humidity. It’s a solid body to body press and the liquor is cheap enough and flowing freely enough that Travis isn’t thinking much beyond RightHereRightNow .
“Gimme your ID.” Lawson is prodding Travis in his side, mouth working around the solo cup held precariously between his teeth. It would be a neat trick, if every syllable Law grunted didn’t slosh knock off sprite down Travis’ leg.
“Jesus, just hold your cup, bonehead.”
“No,” Law retorts simply, tossing the plastic onto the table. “I got downs,” Lawson shouts in his ear, as if it wasn’t already obvious.
They lose. Lawson is arguing with Jakob over it, complaining about house rules and elbows and Travis lets it wash over him as he digs in his pocket for his phone.
There’s some snapchats from Lawson, which is stupid, and he ignores because they’re right next to each other. They’re probably embarrassing anyways.
But there’s also one from Nolan. Just a grainy, poorly lit photo of him outside in his pajamas with the time slapped half across his face. Fire drill. The shits ridiculus .
Travis stares at it for too long.
He says, “Bathroom break,” quickly and wanders off from Lawson, unafraid and unbothered by cutting at least seven people in line. Travis steadies himself against the grimy counters and says “Oh,” on this side of too loud to himself.
Lawson is a dick, obviously, when he comes back.
“Long bathroom break there, bud.”
He makes a couple lewd gestures, typical enough that even Jakob rolls his eyes.
“Looking for a new pong partner.”
“You wound me, Teeks.”
Travis grins sharklike back.
He’s still staring stupidly down at Patty’s name on his phone, willing his brain to compute the thoughts racing through his head. Stromer’s terribly mixed mixed drinks aren’t helping his already impaired thinking.
“Gonna answer that?” Lawson’s draped himself over Travis’ shoulder to poke across his phone screen where he’s left Nolan on open.
He can’t think of a better come back than, “your breath smells like shit,” but, whatever. He’s processing.
Lawson whistles low in his ear, his gross, hot breath earning him an elbow in the gut back. “Double snap? Someone’s in loooooove .”
“Shut up,” Travis whines. Nolan’s sent him another picture, this time of Nico passed out in their dorm, half a shoe dangling from his foot. Travis replies hahahahahahaha and another photo of Lawson trying to suffocate him because he has about zero chill left in his body.
He might have a bit of a crush. But -- no really, it’s fine. He can be reasonable about it.
Claude emails the staff about volunteers for a wilderness safety badge weekend event and Travis checks the thread incessantly, waiting for Nolan’s response to come in. Nolan hits reply all, like TK knew he would, and says he’ll be there.
It’s partially humiliating how quickly after Travis fires off his response to Claude. Maybe he can’t be reasonable after all.
Nolan looks good, no surprise, when he walks into their cabin, kicking up a dust storm behind him. It takes a lot of restraint for Travis not to just tackle him right there.
“Missed you, too,” Nolan says into his hair when he pulls Travis into a crushing hug.
Travis whines, shifting his weight along with the dock. They’ve swam out to the floating dock in an attempt to savor the final heat wave of the year. Kevin’s back at the cabin packing up his car, but Nolan had nodded towards the lake and said, “One last swim?” and Travis was a goner.
Nolan’s starfish across the dock and Travis has been trying to relax but everything feels overwhelming.
“What’s wrong with you?” Nolan’s pulling his body back to himself, leaning into Travis’ space as he sits up.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Nolan silently raises an eyebrow. “This weekend? Or…” his voice tampers off slowly, the easy drawl of his voice enveloping Travis.
“No, man. Fuck, like -- all of this. It was just going to be a job. I just wanted to fuck around in the woods and make some money between semesters. It was just supposed to be easy .” Travis stresses the word urgently, willing with his mind for Patty to understand.
“And it’s not?”
Travis huffs, “Obviously, it’s not.”
The silence hangs heavy over them. Patty’s foot draws lazy circles on the surface of the water. He smells like wood and grass and grimy lake water and Travis has missed it so much.
“Things aren’t easy for me either,” Nolan offers slowly.
Travis doesn’t want to dispute that, but c’mon. Everyone loves Nolan. He knows these grounds inside out, probably better than anyone else. He’s a better lifeguard than Travis or Carter could ever be and he doesn’t even huff and puff about having to take the 6 year olds canoeing every day.
He’s sweet and gentle, but bitingly funny and he’s perfect in every way Travis considers it.
“I don’t think I can let this place go.”
“Yea,” Nolan sighs. “I want to come back, obviously. But every year it gets harder to actually do it.” He’s not looking at Travis exactly, but his head is tilted just so. Travis can see his eyes beneath his hair, he can see the quick burn spread across the bridge of his nose.
“I love it here,” Nolan reasons. “I don’t know what I am without it. It’s meant everything to me. Things are different now, but I don’t know how to let it go.”
“No one says you have to.”
“I can’t stay here forever. I’m not Peter Pan.”
He has the legs for it though, not that Travis is going to say that.
“What does that make me? Wendy?”
Nolan snorts. “Don’t give yourself too much credit.”
They remain that way, tacit. Undisturbed. In early October, the leaves have begun to change. Everything is colored warmly, a quick contrast to the cold water lapping at their feet. It’s breezy and comfortable in a way the oppressive heat of summer hadn’t allowed.
After knowing this comfort and this draw to a place, to the people within it, Travis doesn’t know how he could let this go either. He doesn’t know how he could let Nolan go.
“So what are you going to do?” Travis ventures. “About your problem, that is.”
“I haven’t decided.”
Nolan bobs his head shortly. He’s craned his head more now, eyes sliding up to meet Travis’.
He rolls his eyes. “What’re you gonna do about your problems?”
There’s a beat of silence and Travis is trying to tell himself that it’s probably a bad idea, but before he knows it he’s reached over. Nolan’s body is angled closer and he says, “Wow,” dumbfounded when Travis slides a hand up to his cheek.
It’s just a gentle press of lips at first because Travis is worried Nolan will push him away or into the lake or something equally horrific. But none of that happens and Travis can feel the soft rush of breath Nolan breathes in when they part. He can see his flushed his face is, the small fighting to overtake his face.
It’s less hesitant when Travis leans in again, Nolan’s hand twisting to find his own.
“I think my problems are solved,” he smirks impishly.
Nolan doesn’t tell him to fuck off, but he groans loudly enough to heat TK’s cheeks.
“I’m trying to be serious here,” Nolan whines.
“I’m being deadly serious.” He squeezes Nolan’s hand still wrapped around his for extra measure. “You don’t have to let this place go,” Travis tells his, voice lowered softly. He hopes Nolan understands what he’s trying to say. Please don’t let me go .
Nolan kisses him in response and in that moment, there’s nothing else Travis could want more.