Chapter 1: new house
when in doubt, smoke it out and make questionable decisions
it doesn't come that easy anyway
Nolan went to college on a whim and a prayer. His parents thought it would be a good idea. Four years to figure out what you want to do, they said. Four years to get your shit together and find something to be passionate about that isn’t hockey, they meant.
So he went. He left cold Winnipeg for a slightly less but still very cold Toronto for, originally, a general studies degree. But after taking a Soils class with Professor Toews, who quickly became his favorite professor, he changed to an environmental science degree in agricultural systems and a minor in fruits and vegetables production.
Professor Toews, or Tazer, he insisted they call him, taught a lot of the major courses, including Soils, Survey of Earth Science, Horticulture, Plant Physiology, and General Microbiology. All things Nolan never anticipated knowing by the time he was 22. Yet he did.
Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that there was still planning to be done. In his last advising session, he slouched down into one of the chairs in Tazer’s office and accepted his offer for coffee from the machine on a shelf. Before he could even take a sip, Tazer had his file open and was looking at him, head cocked.
“So, Nolan, any big post-graduation plans?”
Nolan’s brain maybe whited out a little.
“Do you have any idea of what you’d want? I might could help you find an internship if I just had an idea.”
He couldn’t remember the rest of that conversation. Only that he wasn’t as in the clear as he originally thought. So, he smoked the last of his weed and went straight to his laptop, hoping things would be clearer in the morning.
They were not. But he had an email from firstname.lastname@example.org confirming property rental starting in April.
Armed with a degree and a vague plan, Nolan packed up his half of the tiny apartment to move to rural Ontario. He was kind of looking forward to the peace and quiet it could potentially bring after living in the busy city with a roommate for four long years.
He kept all of his notes on growing seasons in Canada, and hopped in the car to drive to the tiny house he’d apparently rented. TK, as the email dubbed him, was expecting him around 3:00, so Nolan had time to explore town before finding the house.
Upon arrival, he decided “town” was a generous definition of his new home. It was a cluster of restaurants and convenience stores surrounded by acres of farms. The drive from end to end of the “town” took a minute, maybe less, and then he was back on the road toward his new home.
A boy, around his age probably, was sitting on the porch across the road from the address he was given. Nolan pushed back the urge to rub his eyes because there was no fucking way this guy was real. A rocking chair on the porch, a total cliché, and a piece of hay between his teeth?
Nolan got out of the car and felt totally out of his league in his gym shorts and old hockey sweatshirt. The other dude stood up and Nolan saw that he looked really short. Like a good five inches shorter than him. He was also wearing a shirt with the sleeves cut off, and the holes went halfway down his torso, like a douchebag, with a pair of cut-offs.
“This is unreal,” Nolan muttered under his breath as the boy came sauntering in his direction. And really there was no other way to describe how he was walking other than a saunter. He was torn between laughing that a dude wearing boots and jorts had the confidence he was emitting or dying from secondhand embarrassment.
“I’m TK,” the boy yelled before even getting close to Nolan.
Because he was a little more civilized, he waited for TK to get closer so he didn’t have to scream at a stranger upon first meeting. When TK was within a respectable distance, he responded, “What’s up dude, I’m Nolan.”
TK stuck his hand out for Nolan to shake, and he took it gently, taking note of the callouses on his palm. He motioned for the door, “So, this is part of my family’s land, but I’m renting it out because I don’t really have anything to do with it. I’ll take monthly payments, starting in June, because you paid three month’s rent as a down payment.”
“You live across the street?”
“Me and my animals, yes we do. If you want any milk or eggs, feel free to knock on my door, you’re always welcome.”
Nolan flinched a bit before responding, “Actually, um, I’m a vegan.”
TK’s face twitched, but he recovered quickly, “For sure, bro, all good. Offer’s always open anyway.”
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Nolan decided to change the subject, “So, is there a store for supplies and seeds anywhere in town?”
TK chuckled a bit before shaking his head, “Nah, you’re gonna have to drive to the next town over. They have a hardware store and nursery there. Plus, you can talk to a professional gardener. Not sure a city slicker like yourself is quite prepared for farm life, bro.”
Nolan bristled, “I can handle myself, thanks,” it came out a little icier than he expected, and he felt a little bad, but TK didn’t even fucking know him.
Holding his hands up placatingly, TK smiled sarcastically, “Yeah, okay dude. Either way, here are the keys. Knock if you need anything. Fully furnished but undecorated. Make yourself at home.”
Nolan waited for TK to leave before he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and unlocked the door.
The house was small. Bigger than his apartment, but way smaller than the house he grew up in. Immediately to the left of the front door was a living area with a couch, coffee table, rug, and TV stand. No TV though. Luckily Nolan had his own, a graduation gift from his parents.
The kitchen off to the right was bigger than he expected, a dining room table with four chairs and plenty of counter space for cooking. The cabinets were full of cookware, which was fine, but he had his own stuff anyway.
The bedroom was down a little hallway and had a full-size bed, pushed into a corner, a dresser and nightstand near the bed. There was no bedding, and TK hadn’t been lying, zero decoration.
Nolan set his first bag on the bed and took another deep breath, time to get to work.
It took Nolan three full days to move in and unpacking was hell. By the time he finished arranging and decorating to his heart’s content, he was ready to get started on the garden.
TK was right, there was no nursery or hardware store within ten miles of his house, so he was going to have to drive. With his car totally free of boxes, his notebook full of garden layout sketches, and a textbook with charts of seasonal growing patterns, Nolan set off toward the nearest nursery.
When he got there, Nolan couldn’t say he was very impressed. It looked a little rundown and small. TK said there was a professional gardener, but Nolan seriously doubted whoever worked here knew more than he did after studying under Tazer for four years.
The guy who walked out from the back when he entered the abandoned shop didn’t exactly inspire confidence either. He was wearing basketball shorts and a brutal socks with sandals combo.
“What’s up, man. I’m Kevin, welcome in.”
“Thanks, um, I’m Nolan.”
“What brings you to my little shop, Nolan?”
He pulled out a page of notes on what vegetables should be planted around April and set it on the counter, “I want to plant some spinach and broccoli and cauliflower.”
“Okay, we have the stuff for that. How many are you thinking?”
“I think I might start small and come back later if things go okay.”
“Yeah for sure, you ever gardened around here before?”
“Just moved here a few days ago, so no actually.”
“Well, it’s no joke. Looks like you know what’s up though,” Kevin motioned to the notes and Nolan kind of shrugged.
“Just graduated, figured I’d put the degree to use.”
“Oh hell yeah,” Kevin held his hand up for a high five, which Nolan reluctantly returned. “You’re going to want to plant the spinach seeds like five inches apart and only about a half inch of soil on top.”
“Five spinach seeds might be a good start.”
“Yeah, maybe five broccoli seeds too, you’re going to want to do the same with broccoli. Cauliflower though, it’s better if you start with plants than seeds. I’ll set you up there. Do you have an area for your garden yet?”
“Not yet, I’m going to get the supplies and stuff today.”
“Yeah, so the hardware store down the road has a gardening section with some high-quality stuff. I can come with you if you want?”
Nolan tilted his head a little bit and glanced around the store, “Aren’t you working?”
“It’s my store, I can close if I want.”
Nolan was really tempted to say no because he really didn’t know the guy. But he had to admit, Kevin knew his stuff.
“Yeah, I guess it could be fun.”
Kevin came around the counter and shut the lights off. He flipped the open sign to the other side and grabbed keys from his hoodie pocket to lock the door.
“So,” Kevin started jovially when Nolan got the car back onto the road, “what brings you down to our neck of the woods?”
“Fresh start, I guess. Kinda just wanted out of the city.”
“Feel that, I left New York for Winnipeg, and then after a bit even Winnipeg was too big, so I ended up down here.”
Nolan perked up at Winnipeg, “You survived Winterpeg, eh?”
“It wasn’t so bad, but the cold was almost unbearable some days.”
“Don’t blame you for leaving.”
Kevin laughed and motioned off to the side, “Here’s the store. It’s run by my good buddy G.”
They walked in and Kevin led him to the left immediately where a bunch of gardening tools were hanging on the wall.
“Hayesy, what brings your sorry ass into my shop today?”
“Fresh blood, G. He’s starting a garden.”
A man with orange hair and a really sick beard came around the corner and held his hand out, “I’m Claude, but everyone calls me G.”
With G and Kevin’s help, Nolan ended up with enough gardening equipment and materials to build a compost box. He dropped Kevin off, promised to call with updates, and started his drive back home. He glanced over at a stop sign to the passenger seat where the bag with the seeds and tiny sprouts of cauliflower were sitting, buckled in per Kevin’s request.
He couldn’t help but smile a little.
It had warmed up by the time Nolan got outside to pick the spot he wanted to start the garden. He walked around looking from different angles at where the sun was hitting and where wouldn’t be shielded by trees from rain water.
He had a bag of compost on the back porch Tazer gave him as a grad gift for his first garden. Nolan picked his spot off to the side of the house, pulled off his t-shirt that was just collecting sweat and nothing else, and got to work.
The grass was tougher than he originally thought, and it took him at least 30 minutes to dig the grass needed for a big garden out, despite planning to start small. Nolan wiped some sweat off his forehead and raked the dirt to make it easier for his plants’ roots to get deeper faster.
Nolan lifted the heavy bag and dumped it out before spreading it with the rake and working it into the loosened soil. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but he felt like someone was watching him. Glancing back towards the woods, he didn’t see anyone. Didn’t even consider TK across the street.
After wiping his hands on his shorts, Nolan glanced up to see TK on his porch, on that damn rocking chair again. This time with – was that a fucking mason jar – in his hand, sipping…something.
TK waved and Nolan begrudgingly waved back before starting the actual planting. By the time he finished watering them, his stomach was grumbling. Unfortunately he was low on food, and incredibly dirty, therefore unable to go to the diner he’d been eating at for the past few days.
“Hungry, Nolan?!” TK yelled from across their yards and the road.
Nolan paused, considered the consequences, but in the end his hunger won out.
“I have dinner cooking if you’d like.”
Nolan walked to his porch warily, “Does it all have animal products in it?”
“All vegan, dude. I bought some stuff, thought maybe we could have dinners every so often, and I wanted to be prepared.”
Resisting the desire to put a hand over his heart, Nolan was genuinely touched. His face must’ve been doing something funny because TK kind of looked like he wanted to laugh. Nolan reached out, “Thanks dude, that really means a lot.”
“Yeah, no, for sure.”
“What’s in the mason jar?”
Travis laughed a little self-consciously, “Rosemary lemonade.”
Nolan didn’t really know how to respond but it sounded really good. Travis led him inside and tossed him a towel, “If you want to rinse off, hose is around the back.”
What he really wanted was a shower, but a hose would have to suffice. Nolan rinsed his arms and torso before doing his best to get dirt out of his leg hair. While drying, he heard a rustle in the bushes next to the house.
Suddenly, a scraggly black cat emerged and meowed loudly at him.
“Sup,” turns out he really doesn’t know how to talk to cats.
Even though he was clearly out of his league, the cat took pity and meowed at him again before slamming its head into his ankles. Nolan squatted and cautiously petted it. The cat pushed its head into his hand and started purring loudly.
Petting a bit more confidently, Nolan told it, “I’m going to call you Ugly. But for right now I have to go eat.”
The cat meowed sadly when he stood up and made like it was going to follow him until it reached the threshold of the house and stopped. Nolan paused before holding a hand out, “Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be back after dinner.”
Travis wasn’t entirely sure what led him to putting a property rental on Craig’s List. He supposed it was boredom with how his life was going, and a super sketchy neighbor was better than no neighbor. His animals were great, don’t get him wrong, but he wanted human contact.
It was almost shocking how fast a response he got from some dude named Patty. He was curious about the property and the price, and Travis didn’t really have an idea, so a quick google search gave him an idea about a down payment and he figured he could figure out the rate in the meantime.
Patty didn’t ask about the rate after they’d exchanged a few emails and venmo’d him the down payment without complaint. Travis was super intrigued by the dude who didn’t even want to look at the place before paying for it, but whatever.
See you in April, dude.
Travis sent the last email and closed his browser. He had a month to get the house together. Fuck.
He cleaned the house inside and out thoroughly. So thoroughly his mother would be proud. He trimmed the bushes to what he thought looked good, though he knew jack shit about gardening and plants. The bed was pretty uncomfortable, so he shelled out on a new mattress and made sure all the appliances were ready and not leaking.
When the day rolled around for Patty to show up, he got up super early to feed the chickens and check on the cows. In an unusual moment of insecurity, he thought about wearing something nicer than usual for when Patty got there, but he pretty quickly changed his mind. His closet didn’t have much variety anyway.
By the time he finally made it outside, the sun was rising. His rooster started crowing as he grabbed the basket with feed and the other basket for eggs. The chickens seemed slightly drowsy until he started tossing food down, and while they ate, he stepped inside the coop to gather the eggs. A solid twenty that morning, which was a pretty good haul.
Travis liked to talk to his chickens, which thinking about it is pretty fucking sad and lonely, so he didn’t think about it.
“Morning guys, we’re getting a new neighbor. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys to be on your best behavior if he comes to visit.”
One of the chickens clucked and pecked at his boot, “Well maybe I have to remind you Joshua, please be on your best behavior.”
Maybe his chickens also shouldn’t have human names. Well only two of them did, Joshua and Dustin. The other ones were named things like Pepperoni and Peanut Butter. Hopefully Patty would find it endearing instead of like really fucking strange.
The cows were their usual level of chill when he went to see them, and for that he was thankful. It helped him chill a little.
“Hey Lettuce, do you think I should make a big dinner and invite Patty over?”
The cow nudged his shoulder, and Travis took that as a yes. He patted her nose gently, “Thanks for the advice.”
After the cows he went to the goats and then walked out to the duck pond to see how the fish and ducks were doing. Travis finished his morning rounds pretty early and went back inside for breakfast. There was sausage in the fridge, and he grabbed two eggs to fry to go with it. After a moment’s pause, he also grabbed a steak from the freezer to defrost.
Only for it to later be a waste when Patty, or Nolan as he introduced himself, said, “Actually, um, I’m a vegan.”
Well shit. Travis knew he made a face and immediately felt bad. Nolan looked a little awkward and a lot defiant, almost daring Travis to make a comment.
So of course, he immediately inserted his foot into his mouth, “For sure, bro, all good. Offer’s always open anyway.” As if Nolan would just up and change his mind one day.
And then he showed interest in gardening which also threw Travis for a loop, because, as stated earlier, he knew absolutely nothing about gardening. He did know Kev, whose shop was a thirty-minute drive away, and Kev knew gardening well. Travis tried to cap his suggestion with a joke, which also didn’t go over well.
He left Nolan’s feeling pretty shitty. He didn’t mean to upset his new neighbor the way he had, which highly likely ruined his chances of gaining a new bestie. No, Travis couldn’t think like that, he’d get Nolan to come around eventually.
Nolan didn’t emerge much from his house in the next few days, and Travis assumed he was probably just getting settled in and everything. One morning, Travis was drinking coffee and eating breakfast at the table by the window when Nolan left the house wearing basketball shorts and a tank top.
His arms looked nice; Travis found himself thinking until he shook his head. No, focus. Nolan got into his car with a notebook and left. He didn’t mean to notice it, but he noticed Nolan was gone almost all day. Travis kept checking his watch until Nolan pulled back into the driveway with bags from G’s hardware store and a few boxes from the nursery. Travis was really curious to see what he was going to do with all of it.
The next morning, after he finished his chores, Travis noticed Nolan was moving around outside. He spent over an hour constructing a box for god knows what, but Travis was intrigued. Then the shovel came out and Nolan started hacking away at the grass.
Eventually, the sun got to be too much for him, and Nolan’s shirt came off. Travis’s mouth immediately went dry. He needed to find something to do. He went back to his little patch of herbs that his mom started and sent him reminders when to water.
A few days before, he’d pinned a recipe for rosemary lemonade, and he figured it would take a while to figure out. When he went to the store for vegan friendly food, he’d bought some lemons because on a vegan site, he’d found an article that talked about the benefits of drinking warm lemon water in the morning that he wanted to try. Plus the rosemary lemonade.
Travis measured out two cups of water and started boiling the rosemary. He was immediately stumped by the honey. He had bees and plenty of honey, but if Nolan wanted some, honey wasn’t vegan, according to a different article on that site. He figured that maple syrup was a fine sweetener substitute.
After 10 minutes he stirred in the syrup and sugar until they dissolved and put it in the fridge. He’d come back later for the lemon juice.
Nolan was still hacking away at the ground when he went back to the window, and Travis wasn’t entirely sure if he was hallucinating or not but he was pretty positive that Nolan’s skin was actually glistening in the sun.
He groaned out loud and looked down at his cat that had just come through the flap in his back door. He picked her up and scratched lightly behind her ears, “He’s going to be the absolute death of me, Pie.”
After finishing the lemonade, Travis figured that the best way to maximize the drinking experience would be to drink it out of a mason jar. That’s what the pictures had it in. Fortunately, he had plenty of mason jars he’d collected over the years for absolutely no reason.
He looked down at his cat, “How should I invite him for dinner? Like should I go over there?”
Unhelpfully, Pie butted his ankle with her head before scampering back out the door and into the bushes.
“Right, thanks. Maybe I could make some like black bean burgers or something. That seems like something that would kill some time.”
And it did. They smelled really good, and he decided to bake them instead of fry to take extra time. When he was shopping, he took a painstakingly long amount of time to make sure the buns were vegan and he had a bunch of vegan toppings.
“This is going to be good,” he told empty air when the burgers came out of the oven.
Travis decided the best plan of action would be to just sit outside and wait until it looked like Nolan reached a stopping point, then he could invite him. He picked up the book he was in the middle of, the jar of lemonade, and a hat to cover his disheveled hair before walking to the rocking chair on his front porch.
That chair was the fucking best purchase he’d ever made. Sitting out there during a rainstorm, a snowstorm, any weather really, was so calming. It helped a lot when he felt like he was going crazy in his own skin.
Travis got settled and actually managed to focus on the reading a little bit, all the while being hyperaware of Nolan working a short distance away. He forced himself not to look over until he felt eyes on him. Nolan was staring when Travis looked up, so he grinned and waved.
He watched Nolan finish planting and watering everything before speaking up, “Hungry, Nolan?!”
Nolan looked pained and clearly debated it. Travis couldn’t have that, and with reassurances that he had vegan food, Nolan agreed. He actually looked touched, his face doing something weird for a second. In that second, Travis decided that he needed a shirt ASAP.
“If you want to rinse off, hose is around back.”
Nolan disappeared and Travis had a minute to gather himself. He grabbed an old shirt of Lindy's that he’d left last time he visited and set it by the back door for Nolan to see when he came back. Travis reheated the burger patties in the microwave for a few seconds and last minute decided to toast the buns.
Nolan rejoined him, t-shirt on, and looked at the counter full of toppings, “Woah, dude, that’s a lot.”
Travis cringed internally, “I just wanted you to have options.”
“I’m not trying to be critical,” Nolan responded with a wince, “I was trying to say it’s super thoughtful.”
Perking up, Travis smiled, “The rosemary lemonade is vegan too and it’s actually pretty good even though I had to use maple syrup instead of honey like the recipe called.”
“Where’d you get the burger patties?” Nolan asked, poking at them.
“Oh, I made those!” Travis responded eagerly because he was actually really proud of them.
Nolan’s eyebrows shot up toward his hairline, and Travis went bright red at the speculative look Nolan sent him.
“I was bored and a little anxious, so I thought it could be fun to try.”
Travis rarely censored anything and “When I don’t have anyone to talk to for too long, I get anxious” flew out of his mouth before he could stop it.
Nolan raised his eyebrows for a split second, “Who lived in the house before me?”
With a deep sigh, Travis looked up at him, “My grandparents. They died a year ago or so.”
Then he internally slapped himself because already quiet Nolan clearly didn’t know what to say. Before Nolan could string a sentence together, Travis spoke again, “It’s all good though, like they lived a good life and everything. Plus, I’m sure they’re super happy in the afterlife together or ya know whatever comes after death.”
Someone please shut him up dear god.
At least Nolan had gone from looking concerned and uncomfortable to amused by his rambling. Travis shrugged a little self-consciously, “So, yeah. Make yourself a burger, dude. And please don’t tell me if they suck.”
Nolan let out a small laugh, “I’m sure they don’t suck, bro. But if they do, I’ll just get up and leave instead of saying anything.”
Wildly, for a second, Travis thought to himself, “Yo, I’m gonna marry this dude, oh my god.” And then it was gone but holy shit did he need more human interaction if these were the thoughts he was having after one dinner with a guy.
“So, you met Hayesey?”
Looking up from his burger, Nolan nodded, “Yeah, he was something.”
“Totally doesn’t look the part, right?”
“Not at all.”
Well that was a conversation ender if Travis had ever heard one.
“The hardware guy?”
“Yeah, he’s awesome. Helped me out a bunch with my chicken coop and repairing my fences.”
“Yeah he was nice.”
Okay so clearly Travis was going to have to do all the heavy lifting here. He leaned forward on his elbow, “So you went to college?”
Nolan gave him a strange look but nodded, “Yeah, graduated with a degree in environmental science.”
“Did you become vegan in college?”
Nodding slightly, Nolan set his burger down, “Yeah, my advisor was really into nutrition and organic foods. I’m not saying he pushed it on us, but he was a big advocator of it in class.”
Travis rubbed a hand over his forehead, “What made you pick environmental science?”
“The same teacher, his name was Jonathan Toews. I took an elective he taught and it was really cool so I decided to just go for it.”
Filing all this information away, Travis made a mental note to look both Nolan and Jonathan Toews up on Instagram later that night. He smiled at Nolan, “What about friends, you make any in Toronto?”
Nolan snorted, “A few. I lived with a couple of guys that I was close with.”
What he was really fishing for was another name to look up on Instagram, “Closest friend’s name?”
“Well, Nolan, I’m glad you’re here now.”
Giving him a long look, Nolan finished the last bite of his burger before finally responding, “Me too, I think.”
Chapter 2: best friend
hot boy summer
i wanna be your favorite boy
It didn’t take long for him to fall into a routine. Despite initial thoughts of hesitance about living in the middle of nowhere, Nolan was actually finding it kind of nice. Get up, go for a long run, do some yoga, drink coffee, garden, eat breakfast, and then decide what to do with the rest of the day.
Travis invited him for dinner twice a week, his mom called twice a week, and he facetimed Carter at least three times a week. Carter who hated the guy who moved in after Nolan. Carter who desperately wanted to visit and meet the “weirdo neighbor” as Travis had been dubbed.
“Pats, I swear, I won’t take up any space and it’ll only be a weekend!”
“Hartsy, buddy, you need to focus on graduating. Come visit over winter break if you even still like me by then.”
“Patty, buddy, we’ve been roommates for four years, if you think you can just move to the middle of nowhere and get rid of me, you’re sadly mistaken.”
And honestly, that felt great. Nolan had gotten so accustomed to having someone around constantly that he missed Carter’s steady presence like a phantom limb sometimes.
“Winter break, Carter, focus on your studies, bud.”
“Hey, if I’m coming for winter break, are there any ODR’s out there?”
Nolan paused for a second, “Actually, I’m not sure. I can ask Teeks tomorrow and get back to you.”
“Oh so you’re using nicknames now, huh?”
Blushing, Nolan rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Shut up, asshole.”
“Travis and Nolan sitting in a tree, k i s s i n g.”
Why did he even still put up with Carter when he didn’t have to.
“I’m hanging up.”
“Bye, Patty, love you bro. Oh, and I found a sick yoga video I’m gonna send you, I’m gonna get that headstand before you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Love you too, and in your dreams.”
In college, for one of Nolan’s electives, Tazer had “lightly” suggested yoga.
“Nolan, I think you should check out Beginner’s Yoga. It’ll help manage stress and it’s a fantastic form of exercise.”
“Do I look that stressed?”
He’d gotten a really pitying look in response.
And he loved it. The school offered free beginner’s classes at the student gym, but as he got better, he had to go out and pay for more advanced classes. Nolan wasn’t sure if there were any yoga classes in the vicinity of his new home, so he tried to follow YouTube videos on his TV.
One Friday, his routine was interrupted. Travis showed up at his door mid-yoga session, and unfortunately, Nolan hadn’t locked the door back after his run, so Teeks let himself in without hesitation.
“Hey, Patty, I was thinking - woah, dude that’s so sick. I didn’t know you were that flexible.”
Nolan stood up and glared at him, “Can I help you?”
Travis looked him up and down and gulped slightly, “Yeah, um, I wanted to tell you about tomorrow morning. Um, there’s a farmer’s market in the next town over, and the organizer is a buddy of mine. I told him about you, and there’s an open stall if you want to sell some stuff.”
Huh. That offer was actually appealing. Nolan wiped his sweaty forehead on his shirt and nodded, “Yeah actually, I’d like that. Do I need to contact your buddy, or…”
Still staring wordlessly, Travis shook his head and seemingly shook himself out of whatever stupor he’d fallen into, “Nah, I’ll let him know.”
“Cool. Well, thanks for the heads up.”
It was a clear dismissal, but Travis didn’t seem to pick up on it, and parked himself on the couch, “So you do yoga?”
“Can you teach me?”
“I’m not a yoga instructor, Teeks. I just follow YouTube videos. You can do that too.”
“We should do it together.”
Nolan raised his eyebrows incredulously, “The point is to be calm and still, can you even do that?”
Travis looked hurt for a split second before seeming to consider his words and then shook his head, “That’s a really good point. I’ll practice alone and then we’ll do it.”
“Okay, sure bud.”
And with that, Travis was gone.
“Fucking weirdo,” Nolan muttered under his breath before turning back to the TV to finish the video.
Nolan brainstormed, emailed Tazer, and googled best things to sell at a farmer’s market with fresh produce plus fair prices. He probably should’ve asked Travis what all he needed, but they had dinner scheduled later, so he could do it then.
Tazer suggested looking up soup recipes and putting together packets with spices and ground up seasonings for soup in addition to his best looking produce. He also told Nolan that his garden was very impressive, and asked if it would be okay for him to use the pictures for his senior seminar class as a graduate success story. Nolan was extremely flattered.
Hopping in his car, Nolan drove to the nearest store to buy supplies: a mini chalkboard and chalk, a few moneybags, some decorations he thought were cute, bags for soup or seasoning mixes, and some note cards just in case.
The whole afternoon he worked on things to sell: picking out his cleanest produce and grinding herbs. When he was satisfied with all of his work, he called his sister to talk until it was time for dinner with Travis.
“Tonight we’re having a vegan stir fry. I attempted to fry tofu as well, let me know how I did.”
Nolan filled his plate and stared at the chopsticks laid on the table before looking up at Travis, “You just have chopsticks sitting around?”
“Okay, so I plan on doing sushi one day and I bought these so we can be prepared for that day.”
“Damn, Teeks, I’m actually impressed.”
He looked pleased with himself. Nolan dug in, starting with the tofu. Travis watched him nervously, bottom lip tucked between his teeth anxiously. When Nolan didn’t say anything, Travis interrupted his eating, “Thoughts?”
“Bro, you killed it, as usual.”
Travis ducked his head, cheeks a little red, “Good. I tried this for the last two nights trying to get the frying right.”
Fuck that was so endearing. Nolan didn’t know how to react properly, so he just changed the subject, “Hey do I need to bring anything specific tomorrow?”
“Oh, no. Lindy is going to provide the stall, the card reader, and a stool. You just have to show up with your goods.”
There was a joke to be made about Nolan’s ‘goods’ but he ignored it and responded, “I can do that.”
Nolan got the address from Travis and left before he even saw Travis moving around his house. He was feeling equal parts nervous and competitive. The night before, Teeks had made a comment about outselling Nolan in his sleep, and Nolan was determined to not let that happen. Unfortunately, Nolan couldn’t see himself being a good salesman.
He wasn’t the first person there, and he found the stall with his name on it pretty quickly. Lindy had left instructions on how to set up the card reader and the hours of the farmer’s market as well as the dates they’d be open in the summer.
Taking a sip of the coffee in his travel mug, Nolan pushed his hair back with a headband and got to work setting everything up. Travis rolled up about 30 minutes after Nolan and got out of his car with a huge yawn, lazily lugging an ice chest behind him. He took one look at Nolan’s travel mug and cursed under his breath.
Luckily for Travis, Nolan anticipated his forgetfulness and packed a second mug. Travis’s face lit up as he eagerly took a sip and made a face of delight, “Dude, this coffee fucking slaps. What the hell is in this?”
“Homemade oat milk and a little bit of unsweetened caramel flavored creamer.”
“I’m coming over for coffee every morning.”
Nolan couldn’t find it within himself to protest. He had a slightly sinking feeling his routine was about to change. Travis set up his homemade butter, jars of milk, honey, and cartons of eggs up haphazardly and collapsed into the lawn chair with another dramatic yawn.
“It never gets easier,” he said to Nolan from his slumped position and Nolan sat down a little more cautiously in his chair.
“How many people usually come around?”
“It changes every week. Today is opening day for the season so we’ll probably get a lot of new people and then we’ll pretty much settle into regulars. So play nice, Patty, or you’ll scare people off.”
Nolan rolled his eyes and muttered, “I’m always nice.”
And Nolan’s vegetables were a hit. The soups were a little less popular, which he understood because it was summer, and while the weather still cooled down at night, soup seemed more like a winter thing. So maybe he should go back to the drawing board for ideas.
Travis was incredibly personable next to him, and Nolan couldn’t help but try to mimic it. Travis did tell him to play nice. Also, the competitive side of him kicked in and he felt the strong urge to sell more than Travis.
At the end of the day, he counted his money and stuck it into one of the bags he bought. Glancing over at Travis, he caught him shoving the money into his pocket and a bill fell to the ground without him noticing.
“God, Travis, I have an extra money bag, please be more careful.”
Travis grinned at him, “You care about me.”
Nolan shut his eyes and took a few deep breaths at this outrageous boy next to him, “I want to make more money than you fair and square, not by you dropping money on the ground or losing something.”
A glint in his eye, Travis took the money bag and transferred the money from his pocket to it. He reached a hand out to Nolan, “Wanna bet on it?”
Nolan grabbed his hand, “What’s your wager?”
“Whoever makes the biggest profit weekly makes dinner the next week. Shall we count this week’s now?”
Looking around, Nolan wrinkled his nose, “Isn’t it kind of tacky to count money in front of everyone?”
Travis let go of his hand and walked over to his truck. Letting the tailgate down, he climbed into the back and turned away from Nolan, facing the cab. Yelling over his shoulder, “Climb up, bud!”
Reluctantly, Nolan followed and began counting his money. He finished after Travis, “Not counting the credit card transactions, I have $728.15.”
Travis raised his eyebrows with a low whistle, “I got $698 even.”
Nolan grinned, “I’ll see you Monday night for dinner. I expect something delicious and expensive.”
“It’s always delicious,” Travis called after him as Nolan got up to pack up the rest of his vegetables. He was hoping he’d have some fruit soon to add, which he imagined would really boost his profit.
He also planned to come up with a new list of things to plant for the summer, and was considering buying some more mature trees to start with. Eventually he’d try to grow them from seeds, but for his first attempt, he wanted to get some practice in.
Unfortunately, his little car was not equipped to carry anything bigger than maybe a sapling, and even that was generous. He had to bite the bullet. Before Travis could leave, Nolan got his attention, “Teeks!”
Travis turned around, “Yeah?”
“Are you busy tomorrow afternoon?”
“Don’t think so, why?”
“I need your truck.”
“Aw, Patty, you want my help?”
He swallowed the bitterness at admitting needing someone else, “Unfortunately, yes.”
“Let me know when you want to leave, I’m free all day.”
Nolan went through his normal routine, and, as expected, Travis showed up at his door just as he finished the yoga video with a coffee mug and a bright smile. He knew Travis probably wouldn’t go away, and he was going to use Travis’s truck, so he figured he should probably be on his best behavior.
“Good morning, Patty. I’m here to drink coffee with you.”
“I see that.”
Despite the intrusion, Nolan doubled the amount he normally made in his french press, and sat down at the kitchen table to wait. Travis joined him, “So what’s on the agenda for today?”
“I gotta take care of the garden after coffee and then eat. After that I wanna run to Kevin’s shop for some seeds for the summer and early fall.”
“Can I help you with the garden?”
Nolan thought about it for less than five seconds before responding, “No.”
Travis legitimately pouted and whined, “Why not?”
“Have you gardened before?”
“Well no, but -”
The timer on his phone went off, and he poured the coffee into his mug and Travis’s on the counter. Travis stood up and crowded into his space while Nolan fixed both coffees how he liked it.
“How exactly do you make milk?”
"It’s water, oats, vanilla extract, and maple syrup blended up and strained.”
Travis nodded his head, “I’ll stick with Lettuce milk.”
And Travis had the tendency to say some outrageous stuff Nolan didn’t understand but honestly what the fuck was that. He leaned back against the counter, looking at Travis, debating whether he should even ask. Sighing, Nolan set his mug down, “Okay, I’ll bite. What the fuck is lettuce milk?”
“Lettuce? You mean, like my cow? I drink her milk.”
“You named your cow Lettuce?”
“All of my animals have food names. Well except for Joshua and Dustin. Oh and the bees, I named them after characters from The Bee Movie. You know, you should actually meet them.”
“The bees?” Nolan asked incredulously.
“No, well I mean if you want to, but I mostly meant the animals.”
And honestly, that sounded really fun, so Nolan nodded, “I do want to meet them,” and after a small pause, “and the bees.”
There was no other way to describe Travis’s reaction than to say that he lit up at Nolan’s words. He took a massive sip of coffee and slammed the empty mug on the counter, “Now let’s see that garden!”
Nolan was stuck running after Travis, purely to make sure Travis stayed the fuck away from his plants. Over the last few weeks, Nolan had been carefully adding to his garden and keeping the soil he wasn’t using fertilized and tilled for the new plants he was planning on getting. He had also drawn out where he wanted everything, so it was imperative Travis didn’t go running out into the empty space and screw up where he had things measured off.
But when he caught Travis, he was standing at the edge of the dirt patch, hands on his hips. He turned around and looked at Nolan, “Dude, this looks sick! Can’t see all the detail with the string and stuff from my porch.”
Nolan didn’t preen, honestly he didn’t, but he did blush a little, “Oh, thanks, Teeks. I just wanted to have a plan.”
“I can only dream of having this level of foresight. Not that I know anything about plants, but this looks fantastic.”
And, wow, Nolan didn’t sign up for these feelings in his chest. Clearing his throat, he started filling up his watering can with the hose attached to the house while Travis looked on. Usually, he’d go shirtless, purely to conserve water. Sweating out multiple shirts a day built up an excessive amount of laundry, but with Travis closer than usual, he felt a little insecure, so the shirt stayed on.
After working for a bit while Travis watched on, Nolan finally called it good. Later, when Travis was gone, he would finish pulling weeds and planting, the more tedious stuff. Setting down the watering can, he turned to Travis, “Alright, Teeks. Let’s go buy plants.”
Twirling keys Nolan didn’t even realize he had around his finger, Travis nodded toward his driveway, “Let’s go, bud.”
When he started the truck, the air conditioning came on full blast, and Nolan sighed in relief, not realizing how hot he’d gotten outside. Travis nudged it down a little so it wasn’t as loud and backed out quickly. Nolan pulled his seatbelt on and nodded to the radio where country music was playing, “Your music taste is kinda shit dude.”
Travis groaned and looked at him, “Tell me you aren’t into that indie, alternative shit.”
Nolan wasn’t sure whether he should be offended or not, “Maybe I am, and it’s so much better than country music. Do they even talk about anything other than girls, trucks, and beer?”
Grinning, Travis cranked the music up. Yelling to be heard, he joyfully told Nolan, “Nope! And I like my music very simple, just like that.”
The only response Nolan was willing to give that statement was an eyeroll, so he settled back into the seat and tried to block out the blaring drawl of whatever country star was singing about tractors being sexy.
Travis, in either pity or mercy, turned the music down and glanced over at Nolan, “Hey I know I’m supposed to cook tonight, but I have stuff for sushi, and I think we should try together.”
Raising his eyebrows, Nolan pinched Travis’s bicep, “I don’t know how to make sushi.”
Flinching, Travis reached over to slap the back of Nolan’s head, “Me neither, dumbass. But maybe two can figure it out instead of just one.”
Even if it felt like Travis was cheating out of their bet, Nolan couldn’t help but agree, “Fine, but after I finish all my planting this afternoon.”
Travis beamed and spit into his palm before holding it out for Nolan to...shake? Recoiling hard, he looked at Travis with disgust, “Are you seriously asking for a spit shake over making sushi?”
Looking proud of himself, Travis nodded eagerly, “Gotta make it official, bro.”
“A pinky promise won’t work?”
“Spit shakes are more serious.”
He wiped his hand on his shorts and put it back on the wheel, unbothered. Jesus fuck, Nolan was having Feelings about this guy. He wanted to bang his head on the window until it knocked him out.
“Hey, we should get lunch at a little diner my best bro works at. I think they have vegetarian stuff there and they can probably take the cheese off or whatever.”
“I’ve been a few times, they know what I like.”
“Sweet, so that’s a yes?”
Nolan sighed, “Yes, Teeks. Let’s go to the diner.”
Fist pumping like a nerd, Travis cheered, “Let’s fucking go.”
He couldn’t stop himself from banging his head on the window again.
Kevin was slumped on the counter when they arrived, and Nolan almost thought he was asleep at first. He peeked at them and then bounced up, “Teeks! Patty!”
“Sup, Kev,” Travis responded, bumping fists before slumping against the counter next to him.
“Same ole, same ole. What can I do for you boys today?”
“Apples and orange trees? Not from seeds, so you got some more mature trees?” Nolan asked, looking down at his notes.
Kevin clapped loudly, startling Nolan, “Let’s go have a look in my nursery.”
In all honesty, Nolan didn’t even know there was a nursery behind the shop, and he was intrigued. Kevin did indeed have what he was looking for. Not as old as he was hoping for, but he thought it could work.
“Cucumbers, squash, watermelon, beans.”
Kevin walked around the shop, picking up a few packets along the way. He dropped them all on the counter and took Nolan’s card, “Hey, you want me to keep this on file? I’ll just charge it whenever you need something.”
It didn’t sound like the best idea, but Nolan shrugged, “Sure dude, whatever’s easiest.”
Kevin typed his information into the computer and handed the card back, “Heard you’re selling your stuff at the market on Saturdays.”
Nolan was a little startled, but he nodded, “Yeah, how’d you hear?”
“Teeks is a sore loser. Also he wanted advice on what veggies go best in sushi.”
Nolan was touched, and couldn’t help the small smile, “That’s...nice.”
Kevin rolled his eyes good naturedly and ruffled his hair, “You’ve got a crush, Patty.”
“Eh, shut up, Kev.”
His laughter followed Nolan out of the shop where Travis was finishing tying the trees down in the tailgate. Travis looked up, “Pats, you finished?”
“Yeah, and hungry. So let’s eat.”
Travis hopped down and wiped his palms on his shorts. Before Nolan could walk to the passenger’s side, Travis held his fist out, “Bump for a successful trip.”
Rolling his eyes, Nolan bumped his fist and shook his head as Travis beamed.
“Crouser!” Travis yelled out, and thankfully the diner was empty of other patrons.
“Dude,” Nolan elbowed him in the side, “don’t be so loud.”
Travis looked around exaggeratedly, “Who exactly am I disturbing?”
“Konecny, haven’t seen your sorry ass in a while,” one of the guys who has served Nolan before responded.
“We want a booth, asshole.”
Completely ignoring Travis, Lawson turned to Nolan, “Sup, Nol. Good to see you again, the usual?”
Nodding, Nolan walked to his normal table along the wall, Travis trailing along behind him. They sat down and Travis kicked his ankles under the table, “You already know Law.”
“I mean, yeah. I said I’ve been here.”
“He called you Nol. I thought your nickname was Patty.”
“I mean it is. Both of them are, but only my sisters really call me Nol.”
Travis looked betrayed, “How does he know what your sisters call you?”
Nolan wasn’t sure the most appropriate way to respond, so he decided to speak gently, “They FaceTimed once when I was eating and it was empty so I just answered the call. Lawson overheard.”
Pouting like a child, Travis crossed his arms, “I want a unique nickname.”
Sighing, Nolan leaned back in his seat, clearly Travis wasn’t going to give it up. Staring him straight in the eye, Nolan shrugged, “Give it your best shot.”
For the first few weeks, Travis felt a little bad about crashing Nolan’s morning routine. He still went, but he felt slightly like he was imposing. Until one morning, he was running a little late, and when he got there, Nolan already had a mug of coffee waiting by his usual spot at the table. Travis kinda wanted to cry about it, but he didn’t.
He was admittedly slightly upset that Nolan stayed undefeated in their farmer’s market bet. For some reason his stand was a hit, despite his customer service skills being abysmal. People liked his grumpy ass, and honestly, Travis couldn’t fault them.
It definitely hurt him that Nolan started bringing homemade jam to sell. That was a hit, and Travis wasn’t even sure when he had the time to experiment with it. They hung out a lot, and out of the blue one morning, Nolan rolled up with an ice chest full of jam.
So, Travis kept cooking and kept getting better and better. His skills may not be close to rivaling Nolan’s in terms of vegan food, but they were passable for sure. Breakfast burritos with tofu scramble were his biggest hit by far.
The sushi did not go well. It kept falling apart and Nolan was adamant that Travis bought the wrong rice. Travis was pretty sure he bought the right kind of rice, but Nolan wasn’t in the mood to back down. Maybe he should do more research and then try again.
He was shaken out of his thoughts by Nolan grabbing his shoulder, “Count your money, bro. I have things to do this afternoon.”
Travis rolled his eyes but counted it anyway and conceded another loss to Nolan, “It’s not fair, your shit is more expensive than mine.”
Nolan smiled arrogantly, “My veggies are cheap, bro, I’m just a better salesman. Undefeated six weeks running, baby.”
He wished he could actually be mad, but Travis would die to see that smile on Nolan’s face forever. That’s why he couldn’t stop himself, “Hey, do you wanna go fishing with me sometime next week? I have a lake on my property, we can even swim.”
A wrinkle formed on Nolan’s forehead and he looked hesitant, “Catch and release?”
And, well, not usually, but Travis supposed he could make an exception, “Always, Noley.”
Nolan got a constipated look on his face every damn time Travis said it, and Travis loved fucking with him by using it. He sighed before speaking, “Yeah, I doubt you always release them, but if you’re down to do that, I’ll come.”
Barely restraining a fist pump, Travis held his pinky out for Nolan to link, “Tuesday work? We can go after you commune with your plants.”
With a deep, long suffering sigh, Nolan linked pinkies, “Yeah, Tuesday’s fine.”
And with that, they parted ways. Travis wasn’t entirely sure what Nolan had planned, but he needed to figure something out to cook for his loser’s dinner that night. He’d made a list originally when they started the bet, and he hadn’t gotten around to vegan alfredo, so maybe that could be the move.
After scouting out his pantry, he realized he had no pasta and no vegan parmesan, so he got a small list together and went to the nearest grocery store. Travis found the stuff he needed pretty easily, and bought some organic vegetables to chop up and put in the sauce.
Bees was working the register when he made it to the front, so Travis braced himself for being mocked by an absolute hypocrite. Sure enough, Bees scanned his stuff with a nod before a shit-eating grin rose on his face, “Sup, TK, I see you’re still pathetically pining over the vegan neighbor.”
Travis rolled his eyes, “Like you can even talk about pathetically pining. How’s Frosty, by the way?”
The smile fell almost immediately and Bees gave him a dirty look, “It’ll be $22.75, asshole.”
After paying, Travis took his bag, feeling pretty victorious, and threw a, “See you later, coward,” over his shoulder as he left the store.
He faintly heard, “Pot calling the kettle black, asshole.” But he wasn’t concerned.
The alfredo came out bomb as fuck, not to brag or anything, but it was probably better than the burritos. Nolan strolled into his kitchen without knocking, sweaty and covered in dirt. Travis wrinkled his nose, “Dude, a shower isn’t optional.”
Nolan rolled his eyes, “I was gonna rinse off with your hose, I have more stuff to do after dinner.”
“I’ll get you a shirt.”
Waving his hand, Nolan moved to the back porch, “This one’s good, I haven’t sweated it out or anything.”
Which means he probably gardened shirtless. Again. That trend was killing Travis quickly. The summer tan was deepening, and Nolan wore it well. Travis wasn’t entirely sure the extent of Nolan’s shirtless activity, but he did know every time Nolan mowed it was with no shirt and tiny shorts which was a test of patience to say the least.
Nolan walked back in, significantly cleaner, and sat at a barstool. He peered at the stove with a curious look, “What’s on the menu tonight?”
“Homemade alfredo with peas, mushrooms, and carrots.”
“Sounds fire, bro. I’m starved.”
Travis was so curious, “What were you doing today?”
Shrugging, Nolan grabbed two plates out of the cabinet, “Called my mom and did some stuff in the garden.”
“How’s the tiny orchard coming?”
Nolan lit up at the question, “Actually amazing, should be getting some oranges soon. Might try and make some marmalade to sell next week.”
And Travis actually had some expertise in that area, “My mom has a fantastic recipe, I could help with that.”
Looking thoughtful, Nolan scooped some food onto his plate, “Actually, that could be fun. I was thinking Friday afternoon.”
“Friday it is, let’s do it.”
They linked pinkies and then took a bite. Nolan looked pleasantly surprised. On one hand, Travis wanted so bad for Nolan to have a little faith in him. On the other, he cherished the look because he’d never seen Nolan give it to anyone but him.
Nolan always did dishes after they finished eating and Travis really appreciated it. Appreciated watching the muscles in his back flex even more. When he finished, as usual, Nolan bade Travis farewell and goodnight before disappearing into the sunset. Maybe that description was a bit dramatic, the sun was setting, but Nolan didn’t get like swallowed up in the waning light, or whatever.
Pie butted at Travis’s ankles, effectively startling him. He picked the scraggly cat up and cuddled him closer, “Hey buddy, how long does it take to fall in love with someone?”
Of course, being a cat, Pie had no answer. But he nipped at Travis’s chin, so he imagined that was Pie’s way of validating his feelings. Travis scratched behind his ear, “Thanks, bud. I appreciate the support.”
Pie started to squirm, so Travis let him go with a sigh. Time to call his mom for the marmalade recipe.
Travis considered joining Nolan on his morning runs, but didn’t want to infringe too much. In fact, he went on his own runs, even earlier than Nolan’s and tried to ignore when he saw Nolan leave the house, tank top and ridiculous bandana on his head.
He always made a cup of coffee when he finished his run and drank it before going to tend to the animals. They knew a lot about Nolan even though Nolan still hadn’t met them yet. Travis was getting anxious that Nolan was just appeasing him when he agreed to meet the animals, but in the back of his head, he tried to remember, don’t stress.
Tuesday morning, everyone was doing great, and Travis went back inside to grab something quick to eat before heading to Nolan’s for morning coffee (round two). Nolan was talking to someone on the phone when Travis let himself in. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop but he overheard Nolan end the conversation, “Yeah, Hartsy, no one has replaced you in my heart. Please relax.”
Nolan nodded at the table where Travis’s normal mug was waiting, full of coffee. He didn’t hang up for another few minutes, and Travis nursed the coffee, taking in Nolan’s outfit in the process. He had a smudge of dirt on his forehead and already seemed to have a swimsuit on.
Dropping into the chair with a sigh, Nolan took a generous sip of his coffee, “Sorry, my old roommate was stressing about being miserable with his new roommate and school stress.”
“All good. What’s his name again? I think you’ve mentioned him before.”
“Carter. We call him Hartsy.”
“You never really talk about your college friends,” Travis mused interestedly.
Nolan looked a little startled, “Yeah, there were a few of us that hung out. Carter was my roommate and Provy lived next door with a dude named Sanny.”
“You keep in touch?”
“Mostly with Hartsy, but we have a group chat called the Outsiders because none of us were from Ontario and Sanny was an English major who thought he was funny.”
“They should come visit.”
Nolan looked thoughtful, “Carter’s considering it.”
Travis wasn’t sure why, but Carter visiting left a weird feeling in his stomach, but he pushed it away. Clearing his throat, Travis changed the subject, “Ready to fish?”
“Yeah, dude. Already did everything so we’re good to go.”
Nolan stuck their empty mugs in the sink and stretched, his tank top rising to show a very tanned strip of his stomach. And Travis wasn’t like pale, by any means, but he wasn’t Nolan’s level of tan. He wore sunscreen, just like his mom preached.
Travis had his boat hitched to a four wheeler, and Nolan and he climbed on. A severe miscalculation on his part because Nolan’s warm body was pressed against him, strong arms wrapped around his torso. Travis wanted to actually die.
Nolan helped him drag the boat into the lake and carried the ice chest. Travis had packed a few sandwiches, some fruit, and some more of the rosemary lemonade that Nolan seemed to like every time he made it. Plus a bag with towels and sunscreen and extra clothes, just in case something happened.
Travis rowed them to the middle of the lake, put his sunglasses on, and leaned back, fishing rod in hand. They sat in silence for a while, nothing really biting. Travis wasn’t so much focused on catching anything since they weren’t going to keep it to eat anyway, but he liked the relaxed state he could chill in.
It took him about an hour and a half to get antsy enough to jump into the water. Nolan was startled by the sudden shift in weight in the boat as Travis dove off the side, and when he popped back up, Nolan was glaring at him.
“Water feels good, bro,” Travis told him goodnaturedly. Nolan wrung out his shirt with a glare, and whoops, Travis didn’t mean to splash him. The unfortunate side effect of his actions, Nolan going tarps off immediately with no warning.
There were no tan lines which meant he likely only wore tank tops on his runs and went shirtless everywhere else. Fuck. Travis might be dead.
To avoid the entire situation, Travis went back underwater and contemplated drowning. Choosing to drown to avoid building feelings for his bro might be the strangest idea Travis ever had. And he’d come up with a lot of dumb shit in his life.
Nolan jumped in next to him, almost kicking Travis in the head. They both reached the surface at the same time and Nolan shook his hair out of his face, “Let’s race for who makes dinner tonight?”
Travis was endeared and also feeling up to the challenge. He pretended to contemplate, mind made up already, before answering, “To that rock over there and back to the boat.”
Nolan got that really competitive look on his face. Like he’d do anything to win. Travis was pretty sure he had the upper hand though, he’d been swimming on that lake his entire life.
Travis was caught off guard and half a stroke behind Nolan when he yelled “Cheater,” at him. But he needed to focus, it had to be Nolan’s time to cook.
“MARMALADE TIME BABY!” Travis disrupted the silence in Nolan’s house early Friday afternoon.
Nolan startled and dropped all the oranges in his hands onto the floor. Travis cracked up at his betrayed look. He sighed like Travis was the bane of his existence, and started picking up the oranges, "Did you even remember to bring the pot?”
Travis grinned, “I left it by the door to fuck with you.”
If looks could kill, Travis would be dead, so he left to grab it and started filling it with water. His mom’s recipe was actually his grandma’s, and his mom had spent over an hour on the phone talking him through the process.
Her reasoning, “Don’t you want to impress him?”
Nolan dropped an orange into the pot and water splashed up and out. Travis jumped and glared at him, “Be careful, Noley. This is a delicate process.”
So of course, Nolan stared him straight in the eye and did it again. Travis hated him. Nolan pinched his bicep, “Don’t tell me what to do, Teeks.”
“On god, Nolan, I will beat you if you disrespect my Nana.”
Nolan had the decency to look put in his place enough to put the rest of the oranges into the water normally. Travis hoisted the pot onto the stovetop and turned it on to medium heat. His mom said don’t boil it, simmer them for an hour.
“What now?” Nolan asked, poking an orange with a fork.
“We let it simmer for an hour. What do you want to do for an hour?”
“Sleep when you’re dead, Pats. Today we’re doing fun things. What games do you have?”
Nolan looked a little startled by the abrupt subject change, “Um, I have Chel, and Fortnite, and COD on Xbox. I have Sims on my computer.”
“Fucking Sims dude? Let’s go. Which one?”
“Three and four.”
“Pats, let’s be roomies on the Sims 4.”
Travis was mid-designing their dream living room when the timer went off to move on with the marmalade. Nolan pushed away from the table and walked to the stove, calling over his shoulder, “Teeks, what next?”
He joined Nolan, staring over the edge of the pot. The water was faintly orange and they looked really squishy which was a little gross but whatever. Travis reached over and turned the heat off before moving the pot to another eye.
“Get a cutting board, knife, and a pair of tongs to get the oranges.”
“I have a knife.”
Nolan was his absolute favorite disaster.
“Okay, get a plate. We’re winging this.”
Nolan, surprisingly, obeyed and started picking the oranges out. There were at least 10 oranges, and Travis poked them with the knife. Just as squishy as he thought they’d be.
“Um, do you have measuring cups?”
Travis almost died at Nolan’s face because there was no other way to describe what he was at that moment, other than lit up. He bent down and started digging through one of the cabinets, “I actually do.”
“We need a liter of water from this pot.”
Nolan nodded, the little furrow between his brows deepening. He took a deep breath and then started pouring the hot orange water into a big measuring cup. It spilled a little, accidentally overflowing, and splashed on Travis’s foot.
“Sorry dude, so sorry.”
“All good, just go rinse out the rest of the water.”
Travis turned to the oranges and pushed into the first one with a knife, promptly burning his fingers. Okay, not his day, that was okay. He’d just wait for Nolan to get back to do the cutting.
Nolan appeared with a thin t-shirt in hand, “Didn’t you say we need a muslin bag?”
And, shit, yeah. He’d totally forgotten to go buy one.
“Yeah, I’m sorry bro, I totally forgot.”
“I googled it and apparently thin t-shirts will do the trick. I don’t really use this one, so we can cut it up.”
Travis grinned widely, “Clutch, Patty. Look at you absolutely carrying the team!”
He looked so pleased with himself that Travis decided getting burned was worth it. Nolan stepped around him to the plate and cut the first orange in half before Travis could warn him that they were super hot. But, the heat didn’t seem to be an issue for Nolan, so Travis cut the bottom of the t-shirt off and grabbed a spoon to scoop the pulp out of the peels.
They worked side by side until all the pulp was in the bottom of the t-shirt. Travis tied it off and put it back in the water in the pot while Nolan started cutting the peels into tiny strips. He was so focused, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth that Travis couldn’t help but stare. Fuck, Nolan was so pretty.
He got so caught up focusing on Nolan’s face that he totally missed it when he asked about the amount of sugar going into it.
Nolan grinned slightly and looked at him, “You wanna put in the sugar?”
“Oh, for sure. Six and a half cups.”
“Six and a half?!”
“It’s marmalade bro, it’s supposed to be sweet.”
“Fine, go give us cavities I guess.”
He knew Nolan was just fucking with him, but he left out the last half a cup anyway. Pretty soon after Nolan dropped the orange peels in and gave the mixture a dubious look.
“Trust the process, Pat. I promise, I’m not leading you astray.”
Nolan nodded and turned the heat on, “Boil this time, right?”
“Yeah, we’ll keep checking on it too. Make sure we catch it at the right consistency. But for right now, I wanna decorate our house.”
“Seems a bit, I don’t know, risky maybe.”
“It takes a while, dude. We’ll be fine. Check on it in ten minute intervals.”
Nolan looked satisfied at that, so Travis set a timer and went back to the table where Nolan’s laptop was sitting, “I’m thinking about a blue couch, but I’m not married to the idea. So, if you have suggestions, Patty, I’m open.”
“We’re absolutely not having a blue couch, that shit looks tacky.”
By the time the marmalade was the right consistency, their house was complete, and Travis was thrilled with the outcome.
“Dude, just think, we have a bomb house that we can play in whenever.”
“Can we pour the marmalade now?”
And fine, whatever. Pour the damn marmalade.
Nolan had set out a ton of jars of various sizes and shapes to hold the marmalade. He poured and Travis held them in place with a towel to keep from burning his fingers again. They got through all the jars with shockingly minimal mess, and Travis immediately started on dishes.
“Don’t want the stuff to harden too much, that would be a bitch to clean.”
He watched Nolan carefully put lids on all the jars and move them to an empty cabinet space to firm up. Travis honestly felt like he’d done his Nana proud even though the process was a little chaotic.
“Hey, take a picture. I want to send it to my mom.”
Nolan nodded and arranged the jars to his liking before taking a few pictures. He looked at them for a few seconds before nodding, “Okay, I sent them to you.”
“Thanks, bud. Good job today.”
“You too,” Nolan responded with a small smile. God how was Travis going to survive this kid.
Chapter 3: loving is easy
the inherent intimacy in letting someone care for you when you're hurt
you got me fucked up
Summer ended rather abruptly. One second he was fishing with Travis twice a week and the next he was back at the nursery getting new seeds for the fall. Travis went with him again and lounged with Hayesey while Nolan browsed the shop.
Travis also riffled through Nolan’s notes, reading out the highlighted portion, every so often adding his own opinion.
“Fucking gross dude, I’m not letting you grow kale.”
Nolan snorted, “Don’t actually think there’s anything you can do to stop me, bud.”
“Spinach and kale?! Bro do you have taste buds.”
“Some of us have a more refined pallet than a five-year-old, bro.”
“Nolan, my dude, my friend, I know plenty of full-grown adults who hate kale and spinach. Back me up, Kev.”
Hayesey held his hands out with a laugh, “I like a good kale salad.”
Nolan laughed long and loud while Travis pouted, “Not fair, you two are the minority.”
“Two to one, bud,” Nolan told him with a smile, “seems to me like you’re the minority here.”
Travis huffed and refused to say anything back to him. Rolling his eyes, Nolan picked a few packets of seeds up and a new watering can because Ugly clawed a hole into his. Suddenly, the sharp pain from before shot up his side and he was winded. Clutching his torso, Nolan fought back a grimace and missed the concerned look Travis threw in his direction.
“Yo, Patty, all good?”
“Yeah. Kev, charge my card. Let’s go get lunch, Teeks.”
“See you boys later,” Kev called out behind them as another sharp pain tore into his side.
“Fuck,” Nolan muttered, pausing to breathe deeply. The pain was starting to get more and more frequent, and he still didn’t know what it was.
“So,” Travis started, “some of the boys are having a ball hockey tourney to mark the end of summer. They told me to invite you.”
“Lindy, Bees, Frosty, G, Law, and Hayesy. The boys.”
Nolan rolled his eyes, “Right, naturally I should be able to pull these people I’ve never met or heard of out of the air to know exactly who you meant.”
Travis blushed a little, “I forgot you haven’t actually been here long, feels like forever dude. Plus, you’ve met some of them.”
Nolan was oddly touched, “Only a few, and I mean it’s been five months.”
Travis cracked a small smile, “Longer than my last relationship.”
With a snort, Nolan turned his head back to the window, “That’s a little depressing, Teeks.”
“What like you’re some sort of relationship aficionado, asshole.”
Nolan was genuinely shocked that Travis knew what an aficionado was. He glanced over at him, “Nice word usage. Didn’t know you went to college.”
Travis reached over and punched his shoulder without looking away from the road, “Some of us don’t need to go into debt to know big words. Plus, don’t think I didn’t notice the deflection. Road hockey, yes or no?”
“I don’t know these people, maybe I just don’t want to meet your friends.”
“First of all, that’s offensive. I’m offended on their behalves.”
“What if I just don’t have a stick?”
“I have extras!”
Nolan snorted, “Dude you’re short as fuck, no way.”
Travis blinked a few times, offended, “Fuck off, dude, I’m a short king. But fine, Lindy probably has a stick for you.”
Nolan chose not to answer, leaning back in the seat, trying to breathe through the piercing pain that was back. Travis still hadn’t seemed to notice it, and Nolan was grateful for that. The last thing he needed was Travis to go all mother hen and become more overbearing than he already was.
They got out at the diner Travis loved so much and slid into their normal booth inside. Lawson was at their booth almost immediately with a pad of paper and pen. He gave Nolan a head nod and Travis a fist bump, “Your usuals, gentlemen?”
“Yeah dude, and don’t forget the lemon for the water this time because I won’t tip,” Travis told him with a smirk.
Lawson raised a hand to his heart, “Oh god what will I do without your pathetic tips? You should be more like Nolan; he tips the perfect amount.”
Nolan stuck his tongue out at Travis who pouted dramatically at Lawson, “Crouser, my man, my dude, my bro, you know you love me and my shitty tips.”
Rolling his eyes, Lawson disappeared into the kitchen and left them alone in the restaurant with only one other table filled. Travis pulled a napkin out of the dispenser on the table and started tearing it into strips, “Pats, are you actually going to grow kale?”
Nolan groaned, “Are we really back on this, Teeks?”
“I just think it takes the fun out of gardening to grow things that taste like shit.”
“Luckily for you, I’m the one growing them, and I happen to like kale. Fresh is better, anyway. Why don’t you let me make you a bomb kale salad once it’s ready?”
“I will eat one bite,” Travis told him, solemnly crossing his heart.
Nolan huffed out a laugh, “A substantial bite, not one of those rabbit bites you’re fond of when you think you’re not going to like something. I mean, dude, have I led you astray yet?”
Travis had to pause and think about it, “Not that I know of.”
“Exactly, I’m not about to start now.”
Nolan held eye contact for just a second longer than what was probably just bros, Travis’s wrist in his hand where he’d grabbed it after Travis crossed his heart.
Lawson suddenly appeared and interrupted them by clearing his throat, “Here you go, gentlemen. Vegan buffalo chicken wrap and fried fish platter.”
“Law, tell Nolan he has to come play street hockey with us this weekend.”
Lawson nodded eagerly, looking at Nolan, “You totally should dude, we need another person to have eight!”
“I don’t want to intrude…”
“Nonsense-“ Lawson started and Travis cut in.
“Bullshit, bro! You’re invited.”
So, Nolan went to play hockey. Travis drove them to a house about 10 minutes away where the road was totally abandoned and really old nets sat in the middle of it. A group of about four other guys were gathered around the back of a truck at the end of a driveway. Every head turned toward them as Travis killed the engine.
“They knew I was coming, right?” Nolan had to ask, suddenly concerned.
Travis winced and looked a little guilty, “I mentioned it a while back, but I never actually confirmed whether you were coming or not.”
“So, kinda,” fucking Travis. Before Nolan could say anything, he started talking again, “But it’ll be okay, they’re super chill, so like don’t worry about it. Plus, Crouser knows you!”
After a quick check, Nolan confirmed that he knew none of the boys waiting, “Well he’s not here. Neither is Kevin.”
“You know G, and he’s here.”
Nolan stared at him incredulously, “I barely know him, we met once!”
Travis glanced around before shrugging, “Well, no time like the present to meet new people!”
Clearly Travis the extrovert didn’t understand. Nolan braced himself, and got out of the car.
“What’s up, you country fuck?!” one of the boys immediately yelled at them, well presumably Travis considering he didn’t know Nolan.
And Travis flipped him off before responding, “You’ve lived in a slightly bigger city for two months, Frosty, country fuck is pot calling the kettle black.”
All the boys laughed as another car pulled up and thankfully Lawson got out. He held out his fist for Nolan to bump and then slung his arm around Nolan’s shoulders, “Sup, Nol. Bet Travis hasn’t introduced you yet, huh?”
“You should’ve put money on it,” Nolan told him with a small laugh.
“Boys,” Crouser announced, arm still around Nolan, and they all swung around to look at him, “this is my good friend Nolan. He’s great at hockey and he’s going to be on my team today.”
“That’s not how it works, Law, and you know it!” the guy they called Frosty yelled back with an eye roll.
“Shut up youngster, I have more say over the rules than you do,” Lawson retorted.
“Dude you’re like two years older than me!”
The boys all started laughing and something in Nolan’s chest loosened. It wasn’t much different than hanging with his boys.
“Sup, Nolan, I’m Oskar. You can call me Lindy.”
A light went on in Nolan’s head as the pain in his side flared up. He leaned a lot of his weight against Lawson. He managed to push out, “The farmer’s market guy, right?”
Lindy laughed, “That’s me. My parents technically own it, but I do the recruiting. Heard from Teeks here that you’re pretty popular.”
“Dude’s conning people for sure, there’s no way he outsells me every week,” Travis cut in with a pout.
“You’re just mad that my veggies are more popular than your butter,” Nolan responded sharply.
The other guy that looked vaguely familiar let out a loud, “Oooooh! Suck it, Teeks.”
“You stay out of it, Bees, you don’t do shit.”
The boy rolled his eyes and shoved Travis out of the way to get to Nolan, “Sup bro, my name’s Joel but everyone calls me Bees.”
“Why?” came out before Nolan could stop it.
“I raise bees, and my last name is Farabee. Anything Travis has said about raising bees is information he got from me, he doesn’t know shit. You wanna get in the bee raising business?”
Nolan winced, “Uh, no thanks.”
Joel raised his eyebrows before he got a smirk on his face and whirled around to face Travis, “Dude, is this your vegan boyfriend?”
Travis immediately went bright red and started sputtering, “No, why would you- I mean he’s vegan but he’s not- He’s Nolan.”
Lawson and Joel looked downright gleeful, Lindy and Frosty were shaking their heads, and G had his arms crossed looking vaguely unamused at their antics.
Hayesey pulled up and got out of his car, “Suit up, boys. Who’s captain?”
G checked his phone and called out, “Last year it was Lindy and Bees, this year it’s Crouser and Teeks. Rock paper scissors to see who picks first.”
Lawson won twice in a row and stared straight at Travis before saying, “I pick Nol.”
Travis looked murderous and Bees straight up cackled in response. Nolan slowly made his way to stand behind Lawson. While Travis scanned the group, Lawson leaned over to whisper to Nolan, “You good, bro? You don’t look so good.”
Smiling through the pain, Nolan nodded, “Yeah, bro. Bit of a stomach ache, but I’m good to play.”
“Wanna be in goal?”
Nolan thought about it for a second before nodding, “Yeah, probably for the best.”
They split up the rest of the boys and Nolan ended up with Bees and Hayesey on his team too. Lawson gathered them all up, “Nolan in goal, Hayesey play D.”
“Fuckin right, Patty. Let’s get it,” Hayesey told him, holding his fist out. Nolan bumped it and Bees repeated the sentiment before heading to the middle for ball drop.
The game had been going for about ten minutes and Nolan had managed to stop all but one when the pain in his side came back but the worst it had ever been. He leaned heavily against the stick Lindy loaned him. He was shaken out of it by Travis tearing up the road toward him, and Nolan tried to move and adjust his stance.
Nolan shuffled awkwardly to block Travis’s shot and took it right to the stomach. Instant collapse. He heard Travis’s feet slapping the sidewalk before stopping right near his head, “Bro, Patty, you good?”
“I think I need to go to the hospital?” Nolan tried to tell him but it came out more like a question.
“Yeah, yeah. Law, help me get him up, Hayesey, can we take your truck?”
“Definitely,” he told Travis before taking Nolan’s chin in his hand and pulling his head up to make eye contact, “can you get in the truck by yourself?”
Nolan tried to lift his leg and groaned, “Can’t.”
“Teeks, start the car,” Lawson demanded, “Lindy, help us get Nolan up.”
He tried to keep the groans of pain in as Kevin, Lindy, and Lawson maneuvered him to get him in the backseat. Lindy slid in behind him and let Nolan rest his head on his thigh. The angle was brutal on his side, and he tried to shift around to get more comfortable.
Lawson got in on the other side a few seconds later and lifted his feet, alleviating the pain a bit. Travis turned around from the front seat, “Hey, bud. Do you want me to call your mom?”
Weakly fishing for his phone, Nolan groaned quietly, “I can’t get my phone. Fuck.”
Lindy brushed a hand through his hair gently, “I’ll get it, just give me your finger to unlock it.”
Nolan let Lindy press his thumb to the phone before handing it to Travis, “You know his mom?” Lindy asked, curiously.
“We’ve talked once, I was at Patty’s when they were FaceTiming.”
“Cute,” Lindy told him with a smirk.
The rest of the ride was a blur and Nolan didn’t remember much of anything until Travis was putting something cold in his hand, telling him to drink. No one else was in the room and Nolan was thankful his mom had insisted he add Travis to his emergency contacts list.
“What’s this?” he asked Travis after one disgusting sip.
“It’s ink, I think. Supposed to light up your organs on an x-ray or something. I can’t remember, sounds sick though.”
Nolan took another sip and then grimaced, “It’s bad.”
“I know, bud. You need to drink it though.”
He tried to focus the next five minutes drinking it and not throwing it back up.
A doctor, or maybe a nurse, he wasn’t sure, showed up about twenty minutes later with a wheelchair, “Let’s go get that x-ray.”
Slowly and reluctantly, Nolan sat up from the comfortable position he’d found on his side. Travis was reaching toward him hesitantly, but Nolan ignored it and gritted his teeth against the pain.
“I’ll be here,” Travis told him weakly.
And after that things happened fast and in a blur. Nolan was told he had appendicitis and was rushed into surgery because apparently his appendix was on the verge of bursting which seemed dramatic but whatever.
He faintly remembered the doctor telling him he probably shouldn’t ignore prolonged pain for weeks in the future, but it could’ve been the medicine. Nolan woke up a few times to a really tight feeling in his stomach but every time he looked down it was bloated, and that was a contradiction he didn’t want to deal with. Going back to sleep seemed like the best option.
And finally he woke up, clear headed. Travis was still there, looking at something on his phone, and Nolan cleared his throat, partly to get Travis’s attention and partly because his throat was dry and scratchy. Travis’s head shot up and he smiled softly, “What’s up, Noley? How ya feelin bud?”
Nolan swallowed a few times before trying to answer, “I’m okay, throat’s a bit dry.”
“Right!” Travis hopped up and moved closer to the bed, “the doc said that would happen, so I got a bottle of water out of the vending machine and stole some cups from the snack station.”
“Teeks, I’m pretty sure they would just bring us water if we asked.”
Travis actually looked a little embarrassed when he shrugged, “Yeah, but now we don’t have to wait. Which speaking of wait, why the fuck didn’t you tell me your appendix was hurting?”
“I didn’t know it was my appendix. Plus the pain always went away so.”
“If you didn’t just almost die, I would kill you.”
Lawson came to pick them up from the hospital in his truck. Travis refused to let Nolan sit in the back, and proceeded to argue with Nolan the whole way home about where Nolan would be staying while recovering.
“Shouldn’t I stay in the comfort of my own home?”
“Nolan, my man, you cannot do anything by yourself right now. You can’t lift shit, you can’t bend over, fuck, you can’t even wash your own hair. Please stay at my house.”
“We could totally stay at my house though, like my garden is there, easier for me to get to it. Less walking, you know?”
Travis actually laughed, “Patty, if you seriously think you’ll be tending to your garden anytime soon, you have lost your mind.”
Horror overtook Nolan’s body as he realized he wouldn’t be able to lift the watering can or bend over to pick weeds. Travis was going to have to do it all, and there was nothing Nolan could do about that.
“I’m super excited to get this opportunity, it’ll be a great learning experience, and I’m looking forward to working with you,” Travis told him, massive grin on his face.
Lawson, clearly tired of their shit, turned the music up louder.
He also made the executive decision of where they were going to stay, at Travis’s.
At Nolan’s pout, Lawson patted his shoulder lightly, “You don’t know where shit is in his house so you’re less likely to do something dumb. Also you can watch Travis tend to your plants from the chair on the porch and yell at him from a distance.”
“Dude!” Travis yelled in his ear, “you can finally meet the fam!”
Nolan paused to work his way through what the fuck Travis could be talking about before giving up and just asked, “The fam?”
Lawson rolled his eyes, “He calls his animals his fam.”
Travis nodded eagerly and jumped out of the car, “Come on, Patty, it’s been a while since your plants got any attention.”
Nolan felt himself pale and Lawson rolled his eyes again, “Travis, stop being a pest. Kevin came to water the plants while you guys were in the hospital.”
With a sigh of relief, Nolan got an idea, “Wait, Hayesey can just keep taking care of the garden. I honestly don’t trust you not to intentionally kill the kale.”
Rolling his eyes, Travis helped ease Nolan out of the front seat, “Wow, you have so little faith in me. I wouldn’t do you or your plants like that. Plus are you really going to make Kev drive 30 minutes out of his way every day.”
And when he looked at it that way, it did seem a little selfish, so Nolan gave up and embraced the idea of Travis becoming his substitute gardener, “Fine, you’re right.”
“I’m always right.”
Nolan had just gotten settled into a chair in Travis’s living room when his phone lit up with a FaceTime call from Carter. He realized it was Friday which meant he missed their planned FaceTime because of the hospital.
Travis wasn’t in the room, he’d gone outside to check on his animals, so Nolan figured it’d be safe for him to answer. Carter had the tendency to mock him no matter who was in the room with them.
“Sup, bitch!” Carter told him cheerfully when the call connected.
Fondness rushed into Nolan’s chest and he couldn’t help but smile, “Sup, asshole.”
“Heard you went and hurt your appendix.”
Nolan rolled his eyes, “I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“Oh I know, I know you. Trust me, if you could physically will your appendix to not burst, you’d do it.”
“How’d you find out?”
“I FaceTimed you at our normal time and your boyfriend answered.”
“Carter - “
“He was really nice, Patty. I approve.”
“Well I’m glad you approve because every decision I make is based on your approval,” and he was being sarcastic, but Carter’s endorsement was important to him.
“You know you respect my opinion, don’t front, you stubborn bastard.”
Nolan snorted and sat in silence for a few seconds, just soaking in Carter’s presence.
“Tell me about how your semester is going?”
“My god, bro, I’m so overwhelmed, how the fuck did you do this?”
“I’m having to apply for jobs. No one told me that was part of graduating.”
As someone who went through the same thing, Nolan couldn’t help but laugh along with sympathize, “Hey, just think, in a few months you can come visit me and if you don’t have anything lined up, we’ll look together.”
“Dude, you’re the absolute platonic love of my life,” Carter told him, giant smile on his face, just as Travis walked into the room.
“Wow, Nolan, you didn’t tell me you were in love.”
“I’m not butting into your relationship, Travis. What me and Nolan have is pure friendship,” Carter yelled from the other end of the phone.
While Travis had been clearly joking, Nolan noticed his posture relaxed a little bit at Carter’s words. Which was...interesting.
And it wasn’t like Nolan wasn’t aware of Travis’s feelings toward him. Travis wasn’t even a little bit subtle. He was also pretty sure Travis knew they were reciprocated, the problem was clearly neither of them knew how to address that elephant in the room.
Travis sat on the arm of the chair next to Nolan and leaned into frame, “How are things, Carter?”
“Can’t complain too much, only a few months to go and then I’m done. Might come down this winter.”
Travis only hummed in response before standing up and squeezed Nolan’s shoulder, “Patty, I’m going to shower and then we should probably figure out what you want to do about the farmer’s market tomorrow morning.”
Nolan nodded absentmindedly, and went back to the conversation with Carter.
Carter was smirking at him, “He seemed a little jealous.”
“Did not,” Nolan argued back, just to be difficult.
“Did too, don’t tell me you haven’t officially locked that down yet.”
Nolan’s guilty silence was telling.
Carter groaned, “Bro, what are you waiting for?”
“Hartsy, it’s not that easy. We’re both disasters, you expect us to actually talk out feelings like responsible, put together humans?”
“Okay fair. I’m giving you homework, Nol. You have until Halloween to make a move.”
Nolan sputtered, “You can’t tell me what to do.”
“I will be asking for weekly progress reports starting next Wednesday, have a great week, Pats,” and with that, he was gone. Insufferable little shit.
Travis had reluctantly gone to Nolan’s to get his basket of soup making materials because, “If you don’t sell your soups I might win this week.”
“Travis if you don’t go, I will.”
And that got him moving. Travis carefully set everything up on the kitchen counter and stood opposite Nolan as if waiting on instruction.
“Thanks, Teeks, I’ve got it from here,” Nolan told him, attempting to dismiss him.
“I wanna watch, just pretend I’m not here.”
Nolan sighed and pulled out his notebook to see which mixes he’d planned on making for that weekend. He pulled all the measuring cups from the basket and started measuring out spices for spicy blackbean soup and Italian barley soup.
“What soups are those?” Travis asked, startling him out of the comfortable silence they’d fallen into.
“It’s a surprise. We’ll make some tonight if you really want.”
“But I want to know first.”
“No,” Nolan told him stubbornly and went back to putting the mixes together in the bags. He made an extra blackbean mix for them to eat, and put the rest to the side for the next morning.
He knew that he probably shouldn’t cook, so he pushed the bowl to Travis, “Put all of this in six cups of water with this cube.”
“For how long?”
“It has to boil for a bit and then simmer for like an hour and a half. The beans have to cook all the way.”
“This is vegan?”
“No, Teeks, I’m giving it all up in the name of soup.”
Travis rolled his eyes but did what Nolan told him to, stirring occasionally. He gave it a long look, “How do I know if it’s done?”
“When the soup is thick and the beans are edible and not crunchy. You might have to add more water at some point, so we should stay in here.”
“I grabbed your coffee stuff while I was in your house. You’ll have to coach me through the process tomorrow morning, but I think I can make it how you like.”
Nolan was a little touched, “Oh, thanks, Trav.”
Travis blushed a little, “No problem. Um,” he seemed a little flustered, “do you have the veggies you want to bring tomorrow picked out?”
“Hayesey texted me that he picked some and they’re in the fridge in a box.”
“I’ll go grab those on our way out tomorrow. How are you feeling, need any pain medicine?”
“Little sore, but I’m okay. Definite no on the pain meds.”
Travis nodded and smiled softly at him, “Good. I was really scared, dude, you just fucking collapsed. Like I could tell something was wrong during the game, but I was thinking maybe it was nerves being around all those new people at once. I didn’t realize something was actually wrong.”
Nolan felt a little bad, “Yeah, probably should’ve said something before it got to that point. Your friends were nice though. Hopefully they don’t think I’m a freak now.”
Travis stood up from where he was leaning on the counter, “Oh! Wait here!” He ran out of the room toward what Nolan assumed was his bedroom and came back a few seconds later holding what looked like a card in his hand, “The boys dropped by the hospital while you were sleeping and told me to give this to you.”
It was a get well soon card and inside someone had scrawled, “Rematch soon, buddy.” They’d all signed it, and Nolan’s eyes burned a little bit. He’d gotten a ton of texts from the Outsider’s group message, but nothing physical like that.
“Wow, that’s really nice of them.”
Travis nodded with a soft smile and squeezed his shoulder for a second before going back around to check on the soup.
The soup was shockingly good. Dulled only by the crushing realization that the dude he was possibly in love with was going to be staying in his house, in his space, for at least a week maybe more.
Something he didn’t consider, Travis only had one bed, and when Nolan found out, he put up a fight. Travis tried not to yell at him, “Patty, you just had surgery, let me take the fucking couch.”
“It’s your bed though.”
He squeezed his eyes shut once before looking at Nolan sharply, “You really want to take the couch right now?”
Nolan hesitated, and in Travis’s mind, conceded.
“We can share.”
Fucking Nolan. Travis looked him over for a second, he looked really tired and he was holding himself weird. “I don’t want to bump you in the night and hurt you, dude,” Travis told him gently.
“Please don’t fight with me, Teeks.”
He sounded defeated, so Travis gave in, “I’ll go get the bed ready, you want any medicine?”
“No thanks, maybe just to brush my teeth.”
“Yeah, I’ll grab your bag too.”
They got ready for bed in silence. Travis didn’t want to hover because he could tell it was tough on Nolan admitting he needed help, but he also really wanted to help. He waited for Nolan to finish before he went to the bathroom. He wasn’t normally a sleep in a t-shirt kind of guy, but he didn’t want to make Nolan uncomfortable, so he sucked it up.
He couldn’t remember falling asleep until his alarm went off for the farmer’s market. Nolan shifted a few times before groaning. He stretched and a hand immediately went toward his stomach and he curled in on himself.
“Fuck, I totally forgot about the stitches.”
“I’ll start on coffee,” Travis just needed to get out of there as soon as possible.
The coffee didn’t take as long to make as he thought and Travis sat at the counter, stirring it, until Nolan finally joined him, dressed and looking awake.
“I’m good to go, whenever you’re ready.”
“Let me go get dressed really quick and then I’ll load up the truck.”
“I’m guessing I can’t drive.”
Travis wanted to smack him, “No, dumbass, you cannot.”
Nolan cracked a small smile, “Well, I guess riding together is better for the environment anyway.”
Sometimes Travis hated him, but maybe this was his transition into riding together every weekend, even after Nolan was able to drive again. A boy could dream.
Nolan sat at the counter while Travis got everything ready and checked on his animals, looking a little miserable, and then followed him out to the truck and got in.
“Bro, Patty, I’m so gonna win this week if you look that miserable when the customers start showing up.”
Nolan was slumped against the window, eyes closed. He opened one to glare at Travis before saying, “I’m gonna get sympathy points, so you can get bent.”
“Yeah but you don’t have any jam this week, that’s a big seller for you.”
This time both of Nolan’s eyes shot open, “You didn’t get my jam?”
Travis pulled to a sharp stop, “You had some?”
“On the counter, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated until opened. I always have an extra week’s supply.”
Nolan gingerly crossed his arms, “Turn around and go get it.”
“Dude, we’re gonna be late.”
“Not my fault you couldn’t follow through with your promise to help me,” and Nolan full on pouted at the end of his sentence.
“Dirty pool, Patty,” Travis told him, conceding to his demands.
And they ended up not being late, but it was close. Nolan was slow to set up his station because he couldn’t bend down but he didn’t want to ask for help, so he let Travis set everything up before Travis realized Nolan wasn’t ready.
So, like a good friend, Travis set up Nolan’s stand how it normally looked while Nolan sat, once again looking miserable.
“Are you sure you don’t want the pain meds, I brought them.”
“No, it doesn’t hurt, it’s just kind of tender.”
If Travis knew anything about Nolan, which he would say he definitely did, he was going to suck it up and sit out there the whole time. One because he was stubborn, and two because he was one of the most competitive men Travis had ever met.
“Well we can leave early if you want,” Travis offered.
To the shock of literally no one, they stayed the whole time. Nolan won, again. He was right about the sympathy buys, which seemed unfair, but Travis decided to placate himself with the fact that Nolan went through a whole lot to get those purchases.
“Let’s go home, Patty, and you can coach me through taking care of your garden.”
And the whole way home, Nolan silently made a list of things Travis needed to do. Which seemed excessive, but Travis figured maybe Nolan would be less uptight if he followed the list to a T.
Nolan demanded that Travis called him and kept the phone on speaker so he could give instruction from the porch chair if necessary. Travis made him a mug of apple cider from Nolan’s own apples and called him just like he wanted.
To his shock, Nolan didn’t have much to say, the list was pretty detailed, and Travis made sure to do everything, even triple checking after completing something just to make sure he didn’t miss anything.
Everything was going well until a car pulled into the drive, and he heard a whispered, “Shit,” come from the other end of the phone. Travis wasn’t sure who it was until a lady got out that looked a lot like Nolan. It wasn’t rocket science to come to the conclusion that he was about to meet Nolan’s mother covered in dirt and sweat. So, yeah, shit.
Almost immediately, Travis saw where Nolan got his sharp gaze, and he gulped as she waved him over. Who was he to ignore anyone in the Patrick family’s demands. So, he squared his shoulders, and walked over.
“You must be Travis.”
Realistically, he knew she didn’t know about his massive crush on her son, but he felt like she did and he kind of panicked.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Nolan has told me so much about you.”
“I promise none of it is true,” he tried to reassure her.
She laughed, the full laugh he sometimes gets out of Nolan, “Only good things, Travis. He told me last night he’d be staying with you, but I wanted to stop by and check on him myself. Hope I’m not intruding.”
“Oh, not at all, ma’am. I’m making dinner tonight so please feel free to stay as long as you want.”
She smiled, “Please, call me Carrie. And I’ll probably only stay tonight because I do have work on Monday.”
“I don’t have an extra bed, but I can change the sheets on Nolan’s for you.”
“I got a hotel, don’t worry. I did bring a few things to give to that stubborn son of mine. Hopefully he isn’t giving you too much of a hard time.”
“I would normally try to lie, but I think you know him well enough to know the truth.”
Carrie laughed as she lifted one of the bags from her car. Travis reached in and took the other one and together they began the short trek to Travis’s house.
“So, if I understood correctly, he hid the pain for over a month until it almost burst.”
Travis let out a humorless laugh, “Yeah apparently, scared the shit out of me. Oh, um, sorry. Scared the crap out of me.”
“Don’t worry, I’m used to hearing it. I’m sorry you had to go through that, feel free to smack him.”
“I think that would be domestic abuse,” Travis blurted before he could stop it.
“Maybe that’s fair,” Carrie told him with a laugh, “either way he deserves a light smack.”
And Travis couldn’t argue with that. Nolan was standing by the time they made it to the porch and opened the door for his mom without saying anything. She pulled him into a tight hug after setting the bag down and whispered, “Oh, my baby. How are you doing, Nol?”
He shrugged, glancing at Travis with a slight blush. Travis looked away as Nolan finally answered, “I’ve been better.”
Travis interrupted before his mom answered, “I’m gonna start dinner. I hope spaghetti is okay with everyone.”
Carrie smiled and nodded at him before turning her focus back to Nolan. Travis moved to the kitchen and started going through the motions of making pasta on autopilot. He really wanted to know what Nolan had told his mom about him, but he did at least have enough filter not to ask.
Travis had some fake ground beef in the fridge, and he put that in a skillet with some oil and green peas. He knew Nolan sometimes put more stuff, but that was his favorite combination. His mom had also sent him a recipe for homemade pasta sauce that he finally made and was dying to try out, so he decided to finally crack it open.
Mid-stir, Travis’s phone started ringing, and when he looked over, saw Hayesey was calling him.
“Sup, bro,” Travis answered, holding his phone between his ear and shoulder.
“Trav, how are things going?”
“As good as expected. Nolan is being a little difficult, but otherwise we’re good.”
“Good to hear. Listen, at the end of the month I’m having a Halloween party. Bring your husband.”
“He’s not my - “ But Kevin hung up before he could finish his sentence.
He mixed the noodles into the sauce with a bit of the starchy pasta water and got a few plates down. Travis debated for a few seconds whether he should go find Nolan and his mom or just call for them before deciding it was probably unnecessary to yell.
They weren’t by the door anymore, and he went to the living room to find them sitting on the couch. Travis was so endeared. There was so much yarn around them, and Nolan was very awkwardly holding knitting needles while his mom walked him through it.
“I didn’t know you were interested in knitting,” Travis butted in, leaning against the doorway.
“I like having things to do with my hands,” Nolan mumbled, blushing a little.
“That’s sick, bro. Make me a scarf.”
“Nolan, be nice,” his mom scolded and Nolan looked properly abashed.
Travis looked at her with a straight face, “Are you sure you can’t stay longer?”
Nolan's mom rolled her eyes and she laughed, “Unfortunately, no. Were you coming to tell us food is ready?”
“Oh, yes. I forgot, sorry.”
Just as they were all stepping into the kitchen, Pie shot in through the pet door and immediately began trying to climb Nolan’s leg.
Travis jumped into action, “Pie, no!”
Just as Nolan smiled down at her, “What’s up, Ugly, long time no see.”
Travis blinked a few times trying to process before blurting, “Did you just call my cat ugly?”
“That’s what I named her, I didn’t know she was yours at the time,” Nolan told him, totally focused on encouraging her to climb into his arms.
“Nolan, you can’t lift stuff,” Travis told him, exasperated, as he held his arms out to take Pie back.
Nolan reluctantly handed her over, “Until next time, Ugly.”
“Honestly, the disrespect is astounding,” Travis muttered as he set Pie back on the floor.
Carrie chuckled, and Travis startled, he’d forgotten she was there.
Nolan was smirking and Travis clapped his hands loudly, hoping to knock the smirk off his face so Travis could focus, “Plates are on the counter, silverware in the drawer.”
He waited anxiously for Carrie to get a plate and then to help Nolan get a plate. Carrie took the first bite.
“This is very good, Travis. I see Nolan is in good hands. I’m glad you work with his diet restrictions.”
“Of course, nothing but respect, ma’am.”
“Carrie,” she gently but firmly reminded him.
“Carrie,” he echoed.
Nolan slept restlessly and often woke up at the same time as Travis. Travis could tell he was itching to get back out and run, but after about a week he stopped bitching about it. He mostly moped and knitted and watched TV on Travis’s couch. Honestly it was pitiful but Travis couldn’t really fault him. He wouldn’t know what to do with all the energy he normally had if he were in Nolan’s position.
One morning he actually got out of bed at the same time as Travis, and stretched, “I want to meet your animals.”
Immediately, Travis was excited, “Yes, get dressed and we’ll go!”
Nolan was slower to get dressed, but they were out the door before the sun was fully up anyway. Travis grabbed the food baskets and practically floated to the coop. Nolan followed at a much slower pace, but he looked like this was the most at peace he’d been since surgery.
“Be gentle,” he warned the chickens in a low voice before Nolan got there.
Nolan had started picking things up in the last week, not super heavy stuff, and he wasn’t bending down yet. Travis scooped up one of the chicks Nolan was staring at and set it in his hand. Huge miscalculation because Nolan looked thrilled and paired with the baby chick, it was the cutest thing Travis had seen in his entire life.
Travis went on with his chores while Nolan communed with the chickens or whatever he was doing. He couldn’t exactly hear but he was pretty sure Nolan was talking to them. Which Travis totally understood. They were some of the best listeners he’d ever come across.
“Patty, you wanna meet Lettuce?”
He slowly squatted down without moving his torso to set the baby chicken down and walked over to Travis, “The cow right?”
“Yes,” Travis told him before whistling to Lettuce. The cow came ambling over and Nolan held his hand out the way Travis showed him, looking slightly nervous.
Lettuce pushed her nose into Nolan’s hand and mooed softly. Again, Nolan was enthralled. Travis never should’ve done this.
He cleared his throat, “Now you can come out here anytime you want.”
Nolan looked over at him, “What about the bees.”
Travis almost died right on the spot. He led Nolan to where he kept the bees and turned to him, “We’ll actually go in the room when it’s easier for you to put a suit on. But here they are from a distance.”
Nolan looked in curiously before nodding, “Sick, now I can tell Carter I finally met the world famous bees.”
“Didn’t you say they were named after The Bee Movie. I’d say that’d qualify them as world famous.”
“Oh you remembered that,” Travis said faintly, he might pass out with how much this boy was.
“I remember everything you tell me.”
Travis talked Nolan into a couple’s costume for Halloween. They both knew it was a couple’s costume but neither of them actually came out and said it. Just like neither of them came out and said that Nolan could definitely have moved back home or that Travis hadn’t venmoed him a rent request in the last few months.
So, Nolan dressed as Prince Arthur and Travis dressed as Merlin and they drove to Kevin’s together. For environmental purposes of course. When they got there Kevin had a bonfire going in the backyard and a cooler for everyone to put drinks in.
Travis set their beers down as Nolan was whisked away by an already tipsy Joel dressed as a bee. Crouser appeared out of nowhere and nudged Travis’s shoulder, “Nice couple costume.”
He couldn’t stop the blush, “Well he didn’t fight me on it.”
“Yeah because he’d do anything for you, dumbass.”
Travis couldn’t handle this conversation sober, “I think I need a drink.”
And he drank and drank. Beer after beer until Kevin broke out the vodka and started doling out shots and mixed drinks. He thought he probably talked to Nolan who was being pretty entertained by a drunk Bees and slightly buzzed Frosty.
Nolan had promised to stay sober to drive them both home, he’d told Travis that he had it to repay him for everything he did while Nolan was hurt. Travis tried to reassure him that he wanted to help, but Nolan wasn’t having it, so Travis had no qualms about getting totally fucked.
At one point he remembered staggering into Nolan’s side, and Nolan wrapped a very strong arm around him to keep him upright. Travis looked up at him and he looked like an actual prince. Nolan smiled down at him, “We need to get some water in you tonight, eh?”
Travis smiled, probably dopily, and pressed a sloppy kiss to Nolan’s cheek, “You’re the best boyfriend.”
Nolan froze above him and met his look, eyes widened. Lawson butted in, “You guys are together now?”
“No,” Travis answered, quickly realizing his mistake.
At the same time Nolan said, “Kind of.”
Lawson looked incredibly amused, huffed out a little laugh, and walked away.
“So we should probably talk about this,” Nolan told him, “tomorrow, when you’re sober.”
Chapter 4: corduroy dreams
epilogue in which carter doesn't get to ice skate
how could i ignore you, trust me i adore you
Travis had ingrained himself into Nolan’s life in ways that Nolan didn’t even notice at first. Little ways like Nolan didn’t normally use his voice in the mornings before seeing Travis, so it always cracked when he greeted Travis. Or he adjusted his run route and time in the morning so he ended up right at the edge of Travis’s driveway in time for Travis to invite him inside to say hey to the animals before he went home to do his yoga.
Whether Nolan liked to admit it or not, a lot of his time and priorities revolved around Travis and staying over at his house became the easiest thing for their new routine. Until one day Nolan actually got a letter in the mail. Carter’s graduation invitation.
He hadn’t thought in depth about Carter graduating, Nolan remembered that Carter had gone to his, and he knew in theory he should go to Carter’s, but he kind of forgot. When Nolan opened the invite an extra sheet of paper fell out of the envelope, and he picked it up.
I gave you till Halloween to make a move. I expect you to bring your boyfriend as a plus one.
And because he was an asshole, it was signed:
Lots of love,
The best thing that ever happened to you (besides TK)
Travis came up behind him, “What’s that, Patty?”
“Carter’s graduation invitation.”
He raised his eyebrows, “You gonna go?”
Nolan shrugged, “Yeah, probably. Gonna have to drive the four hours back to the city,” and after a moment’s pause, bit the bullet, “you wanna come with?”
Nolan was so fond of this dumbass, “No, Lettuce. Yes, you.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Travis told him, softly, looking down at his feet.
With a sigh, Nolan thrusted the small sheet of paper into his view and Travis took it hesitantly. His shoulders relaxed, and Nolan hadn’t really noticed how much they had tensed over the course of their conversation.
“So you’ll go?”
He nodded with a small smile, “I’ll go.”
They’d been going on dates since The Talk. Nolan sat Travis down the next morning with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee and told him, “I really like you, and now I know you like me. I know that we’ve got each other and I know that you make me feel at home and warm. That’s enough for me, just to know. If you have anything else you need from me to be reassured that I’m into you, please let me know now.”
Travis looked incredibly overwhelmed and looked like he was contemplating face planting into the oatmeal. He blinked hard a few times and cleared his throat, “Wow, you um, really put it on the table. I really want to date you, but can I think about that last question for a bit?”
Nolan reached out and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, “Of course, Teeks.”
And after that, he mostly stayed out of Travis’s way. Nolan went for a run and back to his place to make another batch of jam and to water his plants. He didn’t go back to Travis’s until the end of the day for dinner, and Travis had made a whole mess and a three course meal while he was gone.
There was a candle on the table that was set, even though they normally sat at the bar, and Travis was twisting a dish towel in his hands nervously.
“I’ve been thinking about what you asked this morning.”
“Wanna tell me what you came up with?”
Travis took a shaky breath, “It’s kind of hard for me to decipher my feelings sometimes, but I can tell they’re there because everything is super magnified. Tenderness and attention are important. I just want someone who I can be soft with and the knowledge that they can be soft with me.”
Nolan nodded, “We’ll work on it, eh? Relationships take effort.”
And that was that.
So Nolan had seen Travis pretty dressed up on some of their dates, or so he thought. But nothing prepared him for how good Travis could look. Nolan let out a long whistle, “Damn Teeks, who knew you cleaned up that nicely.”
Travis shrugged with a slight blush, “Gotta impress your city friends.”
Nolan wasn’t entirely sure how to reassure him properly, so he settled with pressing a kiss to Travis’s forehead, “You impress me,” and after a moment’s pause, “can you do my tie for me?”
Travis rolled his eyes, fond expression on his face, and held his hand out for the tie. Nolan handed it to him and stepped into Travis’s personal space. With a look of concentration on his face, Travis gently tied it for him and tightened his tie up.
“Thanks, Trav,” Nolan told him with another kiss on the forehead, “you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be, I guess.”
Wherever they went, Travis normally drove, but because Nolan knew Toronto better, he argued that he should drive. Travis eventually gave in, albeit grumpily, and pouted in the front seat for the first hour, even though Nolan let him pick the music.
As they got closer and closer, Travis tensed up more and more. At a red light about ten minutes from the school, Nolan reached over and put a hand firmly on his shoulder, “Now you know how I felt meeting your friends.”
Travis huffed out a humorless laugh and reached up to give Nolan’s hand a quick squeeze, “Yeah, I guess I understand the nerves now.”
“Carter is really excited to meet you in person, and Provy will probably give you a hard time but he’s harmless.”
“What’s the plan after?”
“Carter wants to go to the bar we used to hang out at on weekends and then he’s coming back with us for a bit.”
Travis didn’t look the most thrilled about that, but Nolan hoped after they officially met things would get better. He really wanted them to get along.
Carter’s graduation was just as boring as he remembered his was, and Travis got more and more fidgety as the minutes ticked by. Eventually, Nolan reached out and grabbed his hand so Travis would stop playing with his fingers. He leaned over and whispered, “Almost done.”
Travis squeezed his hand and rubbed his thumb over Nolan’s knuckle. He squeezed one more time before whispering back, “Ready to get that drink, honestly.”
“God, me too.”
And so was Carter. He didn’t stop to talk to anyone, just quickly introduced himself to Travis, threw one arm around Nolan and the other around Travis before leading them out of the auditorium. Carter was talking to them a mile a minute, “I’ve got to pee so fucking bad, let’s stop before we get out of here, boys.”
Travis and Nolan waited outside the bathroom and Travis gave him an amused look, “Carter is, a lot.”
“Yeah, I told you he was excited to meet you.”
Travis wrapped an arm around his torso, “I guess I should listen to you more often.”
They’d turned away from the bathroom door and both startled when Carter clapped loudly behind them, “Let’s get some drinks, I’m a free man and ready to party!”
“Free is generous because of all of the student debt, but okay,” Nolan responded teasingly.
Carter beamed at him, “Pot, kettle, asshole. Just gotta find me a nice sugar mommy or daddy and I’ll be set.”
Travis straight up cackled in response. Nolan covered his eyes with one of his hands, “God I can’t take you anywhere.”
“You love me,” he told Nolan before turning to Travis, “he loves me,” and after a slight pause, “not as much as he loves you though.”
“Get in the car, Hartsy.”
They let Carter get absolutely fucked up. Travis met Provy and Sanny and they all got along like a house on fire. Nolan was absolutely thrilled about it. Not that he needed his friends’ approval, but it was nice to have anyway.
They poured Carter into the backseat and started the long drive back. He passed out almost immediately, and Nolan glanced over at Travis, “While Carter is visiting, I figured I’d move back across the street.”
Travis looked a little sad but nodded anyway, “You’ll come back after though, right?”
“If you want me to come back, I will, Trav.”
He nodded once before turning up the music.
It was an absolute act of congress to get Carter and his bag inside the house as he was out cold. Nolan dropped him on the couch and pulled his shoes off. Travis draped a blanket over him before stretching up on his toes to give Nolan a quick kiss, “See you tomorrow, yeah?”
“Yeah, I’ll stop by normal time after my run.”
He went to bed shortly after. It was hard to get to sleep without Travis’s steady breathing next to him but somehow he managed. The next morning, it hurt to peel his eyes open to his alarm, but he got up and dragged on a pair of running leggings and a pullover.
Carter was still out and Nolan kneeled down next to the couch, shaking him gently, “Wake up, Hartsy, let’s go for a run.”
He groaned and shifted a few times, stretching his legs out, before grumpily cracking open one eye, “Time’s it?”
“Fucking hell, Patty. Why so early?”
“Travis is coming for coffee at 9, I like to get my yoga in before then.”
“Fine,” he sat up with a loud groan. Carter stood up reluctantly and stumbled over to his bag to pull out some workout clothes before heading to the bathroom. He came out a few minutes later looking much more awake than before with a grin on his face, “You taking up knitting, Patty?”
“Gonna make me some socks?”
“If you want.”
“Let it be my Christmas gift. Still expect a graduation gift though.”
Nolan rolled his eyes, “My graduation gift is this fun vacation.”
“And we’re kicking it off with a workout?”
“Precisely. Now get your shoes on.”
They ran in silence for a while, both of them with headphones in. It was as peaceful as usual, watching the sun come up. Carter paused for a minute at the top of a hill and motioned for Nolan to take a headphone out.
“How much longer are we going?”
Nolan caught his breath for a few seconds before answering, “We can just come back the way we came.”
“Race?” Carter asked eagerly.
Nolan laughed, “Yeah, sure, bud. Let’s race.”
It took them a lot less time getting back at a full sprint, and it was close but Nolan beat him back. They stopped at Travis’s driveway, and Nolan motioned to the house, “Wanna go in?”
Carter shook his head, a small smile on his face, “You go, I’m gonna go hydrate as much as possible and stretch out a little.”
“I’ll be like 30 minutes, don’t fall back asleep.”
“Aye aye, captain.”
Travis was leaning against the kitchen counter when Nolan let himself in and beamed when he saw him, “Wasn’t sure you were gonna make it.”
“Don’t be a dumbass, Teeks. I wouldn’t break routine.”
“Not this one.”
Travis’s smile softened around the edges, “Still on for coffee later?”
“I wanna go skating, Patty,” Carter told him from where he was stretched out on the floor.
“It hasn’t even snowed yet, Hartsy.”
“No but look,” he shoved his phone into Nolan’s face, “it’s gonna snow the next three days. And we can rollerblade until then.”
“Did you even bring rollerblades?”
Carter rolled his eyes, “I always bring skates everywhere I go. Text Travis, see if he wants to come.”
Nolan raised his eyebrows but did as Carter suggested. Travis responded that he had some stuff to do that afternoon, and Nolan made a mental note to check on him. He hadn’t done much with them and Nolan was starting to get worried.
“Teeks can’t come,” he told Carter.
Carter frowned, “Is everything okay with you two?”
“I thought so, but now I’m not sure.”
Humming thoughtfully, Carter rejoined him, both of their skates and two thick sweaters in hand. Nolan took his and they walked to the porch to strap them on and suit up. Carter nudged him when he noticed the velcro on Nolan’s skates, “Still can’t tie your shoes, Pat?”
“Fuck off, Hartsy,” he snapped back, knocking Carter off balance.
“It comes from a place of love, Patty. How do you wear tennis shoes?”
Nolan hated to admit it, “They stay tied, I just slide them on.”
Carter cackled and Nolan skated away to avoid his replies.
Travis finally agreed to join them for dinner, and Nolan was cooking for once. He made chili and Carter made vegan eggnog and brownies. His house smelled phenomenal, and they were both wearing Christmas sweaters. It wasn’t quite Christmas, but Carter was leaving the next morning, so they were exchanging gifts later that night.
Nolan was just glad Travis could make it because Carter had a gift for him and hopefully they could get to the bottom of the sudden coldness.
As dinnertime got closer and closer and he still hadn’t heard from Travis, Nolan started to get worried. He tried to hide how shitty he was feeling about the sudden radio silence, but Carter could read him pretty well.
Finally, 6:30 hit, dinner was at 6:00, and Carter tugged on an extra jacket and hat and called out, “I’ll be back, pour yourself some eggnog, bud.”
Travis wasn’t expecting it when Carter barged into his house. He knew it was past time for dinner, and he did feel a little bad, but he really didn’t want to take up their time. Plus, it was hard for him to see them so buddy buddy. He’d never seen Nolan that joyful before and it made him feel yucky.
“Bro, what the fuck!”
He startled as Carter stormed into the room in shorts, boots, and a ridiculous Christmas sweater. Travis raised his eyebrows, and didn’t quite answer his question, “What’s up with the fit, dude?”
“It’s the dress code. Which I know for a fact you received because I read the text.”
“Oh shit, that was tonight?” he knew it sounded weak.
Carter scoffed, “Yeah, it’s tonight. Maybe stop being an asshole and think about how shitty Nolan feels being ghosted by his boyfriend.”
“I’m,” Travis hesitated, “not ghosting him. I’m giving him space so you two can hang out.”
He sat up to let Carter sit next to him. Carter rolled his eyes, “Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but Nolan was really looking forward to us hanging out. All of us. You know, like you drag Nolan to do shit with your friends that he barely knows.”
And when he put it that way, Travis felt pretty bad.
“I just don’t - “
Carter interrupted him, “Are you jealous?”
“No,” he answered too fast.
“Right, I’m gonna say this one time. I’ve never seen that boy as happy as he is right now. Well not right now I guess because he thinks you’re on the verge of dumping him, but he genuinely cares for you. He is my brother and I care so much for him that I would lay my life down to see him happy. I’m not going to sit by and let you throw that back into his face.”
“That wasn’t what I was trying to do.”
“Then get your ass up, get a sweater on, and come eat dinner. Nolan cooked and he’s probably pouting on the couch. If he cries, I will kick your ass.”
Travis felt a little better while getting dressed before following Carter across the street to Nolan’s. The house was warm inside and smelled like a Christmas tree, and Nolan was sitting at the table, chin in his palm, staring out the window with a morose look on his face. Travis didn’t like that he probably put it there.
The cautiously hopeful look Nolan cast his way when he saw Travis standing there almost broke his heart. Like he couldn’t believe Travis would show up. Which, to be fair, he had every right to believe that.
He didn’t move and Travis’s heart actually hurt. Travis walked across the room and wrapped his arms around Nolan who buried his head into Travis’s hip. With that action something settled in Travis’s chest and he squeezed Nolan a little closer. Fuck did he miss his boy.
Carter gently cleared his throat after a few minutes and Nolan jumped up, “Right, I have chili and eggnog. I was going to ask if you were good with it, Trav, but I didn’t want to push it and figured it’d be okay.”
“Sounds great, Pat.”
Nolan smiled widely and gestured toward the counter, “I have bowls. I’m gonna go get the presents I have for you guys really quick so help yourselves.”
Carter looked amused as he grabbed a bowl and mug. He looked over at Travis, “He does this thing where he makes something homemade as a gift every year to go with Christmas chili.”
“He does this a lot?”
“We stayed on campus for winter break our freshman year because of a snowstorm and we made the best meal we could with what limited food we had and did a roomie Christmas. And it extended every year past that. He was really excited to include you this year.”
Nolan came back, two small bags clutched in his hands. He held them to his chest for a few seconds, “Okay, I’m not the best yet, but I really tried.”
He handed them each a bag and waited anxiously for them to open them, biting his lip. Travis opened it curiously and couldn’t stop the wide smile from crossing his face, “Dude, is this a scarf?”
Nolan nodded, smiling at him, “You like?”
“Fuck yeah dude, Flyers colors!”
“I remember you said that was your favorite team growing up.”
Travis wrapped Nolan in a tight hug and planted a kiss on his cheek, “I love it.”
When he looked over to see what Carter got, he was sliding across the floor in a pair of red and blue socks. He tackled Nolan, “Habs colors, baby!”
“Merry Christmas, guys,” Nolan told them both with a wide smile, “let’s eat.”
Normally Nolan woke up at the alarm Travis set, but one morning was different. Travis was a light sleeper, and he felt Nolan start to shift early. When he opened his eyes, Nolan was smiling down at him and looked ethereal in the muted lighting of Travis’s bedroom.
“Why’re you awake?” Travis asked with a groan and a yawn.
“First snow of the year, I wanna go outside.”
“What time is it?”
Travis sighed and rolled onto his stomach, “Fine.”
Nolan jumped out of bed and started putting on layers enthusiastically. Travis was exhausted from lying awake at night, thinking about the conversation they hadn’t had yet. He slowly got up and put on a thick jacket and pair of socks and scarf Nolan made him.
“If you hurry, I’ll make breakfast,” Nolan told him, sliding a pair of zippered boots on.
And with that, Travis hurried up. Who could resist an offer like that.
Travis knew Nolan was from Winnipeg and that he was used to the snow, but there was still a childlike wonder on his face as he held his palms up to catch snowflakes. They caught on his long eyelashes and he stuck his tongue out to catch a few.
Watching him carefully, Travis’s heart physically hurt. Nolan walked over to him and held his hand out, “Come make snow angels?”
“We’ll get all wet,” Travis complained halfheartedly.
“We can go inside and change right after, come on, Teeks.”
And who was he to deny this boy that he loved.
After a few minutes of snow angels, neither of them had moved from the ground and Travis turned his head to look. Only to find Nolan staring back at him, the joy gone from before. Nolan shifted onto his side and raised a hand to trace Travis’s lips.
“I’m so sorry.”
“What,” Travis blurted, confused.
“I should’ve done more to include you. To show you that you’re still my number one guy.”
Travis rolled to face him, already shaking his head, “No, Pat, I’m sorry is supposed to be my line.”
“I should’ve seen it earlier.”
“I didn’t want you to see,” Travis started, “but I want you to know that I do want to be your favorite boy. I want you to be happy most of all and I thought giving you time with Carter alone would do that.”
“I wouldn’t invite you if I didn’t want you there.”
Travis chuckled, “I see that now. I’ll try to believe you from here on out.”
After getting dried off, Nolan made breakfast and then demanded they make Christmas cookies. In no time at all, Travis’s counter was cleaned and covered in flour as Nolan rolled out homemade dough. Travis dug in the back of his cabinets until he found really old cookie cutters he vaguely remembered using as a child.
Nolan split the dough in half and started making a batch of frosting. Travis wasn’t entirely sure where the baking prowess had suddenly come from, but he wasn’t complaining. He zoned out for a second, thinking about it, and when he came back to, Nolan was licking frosting off his fingertips.
“Bro,” Travis told him, “how the fuck could you do this to me?”
“I have to make sure the sugar ratio is right.”
It took about 45 minutes to get through the dough and set the cookies on a sheet to start baking. It would take at least five rounds to get through them all, so Travis pulled Nolan to the couch to pick up their Sims family.
“I totally think we should get a dog.”
“We have a cat, Trav. We can’t just get a dog, it might hate Pie.”
Travis pinched his thigh, “In the Sims, dumbass.”
“Oh,” Nolan paused, “well in that case, we’re naming our dog Cake.”
“It kind of matches with Pie.”
Travis fucking loved this boy.
Travis finally brought Nolan to an ODR. He drove, one hand on the wheel, one hand held by Nolan, sitting in his lap. There had been a blush on Nolan’s cheeks ever since Travis had taken his hand, so he wasn’t letting go any time soon.
It was a short drive, and when they got there Travis grabbed both pairs of skates out of the back seat. He tossed the bigger pair to Nolan and started tying up his own. When he finished, Travis realized Nolan hadn’t tied his.
“Come on, Noley, I wanna skate.”
“Can’t what? Skate? I saw you rollerblading and it’s basically the same thing. Plus, I’ll hold your hand the whole time.”
Nolan rolled his eyes, “First of all, it’s not the same thing at all. Second of all, I physically can’t until you tie my skates.”
“You tie them.”
There was no answer for a few minutes until a quiet, “I can’t.”
So Travis immediately dropped to one knee and started tying Nolan’s skates as quickly and delicately as he could. He could feel Nolan staring at him, and he risked looking at Nolan’s face. What he didn’t expect was for Nolan to be staring straight at him.
“Thanks,” he whispered as Travis stood and helped him up.
“Anytime,” Travis told him, still hanging onto his hand as they stepped out on the ice together.
They skated in silence for a while before Nolan started swinging their hands between them, “Hey.”
“Hey,” Travis responded.
“You’re really loved, Trav.”
It was said so earnestly, so honestly, that Travis felt like someone had opened his chest and ripped out his heart.
“I love you too, Nolan.”
And right then Travis tripped, sending them both into a nearby snowbank.
“Fuck!” Nolan yelped, standing up quickly, reaching down to help Travis up who had burst into laughter and couldn’t get up alone.
“I’m sorry, that was just such bad timing,” Travis managed to force out between giggles.
“Fucking menace. We’re gonna catch a cold soon, Trav.”
“Hey not if we shower together. No one has to wait and we’ll save water, it’ll be good for the environment!”
“Good for the environment, my ass,” Nolan muttered, but didn’t resist as Travis led them off the ice.