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Out at the Lake

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Zach isn't in the habit, during the off-season, of checking his phone much. Sure, if he gets a text he'll respond, and he doesn't try to ignore the ringing, but it's more because it'd just keep buzzing if he didn't do anything than really having any actual interest in it.

 

It's late in the morning when he comes in from outside, and the phone's ringing loud enough to distract him. Without pulling off his sneakers or anything, Zach stumbles over in the dark house, and gets his phone from near the stove, where he left it this morning while drinking coffee and trying to decide where to start with the lake front: at the water line, like his dad asked, or to get the yard cleared up, make it look decent now, since his mom's been talking about that.

 

"Hey?" It's short, and Zach really doesn't hate technology, or anything, honestly. If he did, he could just live out on the lake and never pick up his phone or drive, like some kind of crazy mountain man. Some really kinda crazy guy, with a beard and a couple of guns. It is a pretty far trip from snapping on the phone to that, though, so he's not too worried.

 

"Hey, Zach." Jordan's voice filters though, tinny and grating enough that Zach sighs, nearly inaudibly. Jordan hears, and makes a sort of self-righteous sniffle.

 

Or something. Jordan has always been slightly kinda weird; even though Zach's his brother. Maybe especially because they're brothers, since Zach knows the whole list of weird things that Jordan has attempted, and even done. Anyway, it kinda makes sense to talk about Jordan that way. "Jordan, what?"

 

"Hey, man, I can't ever call you? Anyways, Jonny, say hi." There's a little echo, and Zach stares right out at the lake, the blue curve bisected by all the weeds he's cut up this morning, and the low hanging of the trees across his view, and doesn't think about much of anything until Jordan's back on the line.

 

It's quiet, and pretty, and what Zach wanted to spend the summer doing. The summer when he's not at the rink, if he's honest with himself, because that's what he does, truly. Honesty and keeping up skating, both of them, then. "Jonny? You mean." Zach swallows.

 

"Of course I mean, dumbass. Are you down at Mom and Dad's?" Jordan's unusually direct today, Zach thinks he must need something. Why he has Jonny with him; Jonny who always goes along with Jordan's stupid ideas because there's still some weird rule in effect that Jonny still has to find Jordan desperately cool and worth following. Whatever, Zach tries not to think about it to hard, it's a little creepy. "No, you shut up. I'm doing something nice here, making sure that you don't have to sleep on the airport benches, you could at least try." There's a pause, and Zach thinks about what must be going on; Jordan's driving, obviously, if Zach's correct in thinking that he's about to well, get Jonny here, because Jordan, at least, kinda knows the way.

 

Jordan sounds a little ashamed about not asking Zach if he minds the two of them showing up. He doesn't really; it's not like he had some hot plans or really, anything. "Anyways, I told him that you were up at the lake, and it's not far, so, uh." It really isn't like there's anything Zach could say, now. Leave me alone, I'm considering backsliding and leaving society? I've got important weeds to pull? He wouldn't want to, anyway. He does actually, now that he thinks about it, want to see them. Or, well. It'd be okay seeing Jordan, who's around enough anyway, but Jonny. Zach hasn't even texted him for weeks now; after the season ended, it seemed weird, suddenly, like there wasn't something to really even talk about. Which is stupid, Zach knows, it's not like they only talked about games, needed to discuss sticks and grips to have something to say.

 

Zach breathes, and the trees outside flutter in the wind. "Yeah, it's okay, Jordan. Bring yourselves out, then."

 

Jordan snickers; it's immediately annoying. "Heck no. I have a date tonight, I'm not staying out and patching the boat, yeah, right, Jonny, that's what you're doing, the muskies will get both of you otherwise." He returns to the conversation with Zach, "So I'm just bringing him up, 'cause then I gotta head out too." It's hard, not suddenly thinking about what it means that Jonny's out here, just with Zach. They're talking again, Jonny's voice indistinct, and Jordan's much louder. "What, yeah, no, of course I was gonna do this. It's not a favor if you need it, dumbass."

 

Zach waits it out; they're squabbling, like always. There's a pause, and he reinserts himself into the conversation. "So, whenever you're done, wanna tell me where you are?"

 

"Uh. We're almost there, sorry. Like, twenty minutes away, maybe? Jonny'll entertain you when he gets there, I gotta hang up now, I need to switch lanes. Bye!" The call ends, and Zach stands there anyway, looking beyond the trees, out at the lake, and zoning out, maybe, staring at nothing, really.

 

The weirdness of the whole thing is just starting to be clear, now. Jordan's never understood anything like that, why it might not be the greatest idea ever to bring Jonny down. Which, of course, asks the whole question of why Jonny's around anyway. As far as Zach knew, he was still in Chicago, living with one of the defensemen, doing whatever. It's not like Zach thinks about it a lot. He's got other stuff to do. He contemplates maybe pulling out some sheets for Jordan's old bed, if Jonny's gonna stay. This whole thing isn't a given, even if it does mean that they'll be sleeping in the same room, again. Might be easier if Zach even knew what the hell was going on, why Jonny's here at all, why Zach gets stupid around him, and if Jonny'll just sleep in Zach's bed. It all means that Zach's not sure what to do, is about the only thing he can really figure out. Put the tools away from the morning, he decides, before going back outside into the sunlight.

 

It doesn't take long enough. At least it's looking better-cleared down by the lake, which is the whole reason Zach's out here, to get things ready so when his mom comes out, later in the summer, she doesn't worry that the neighbors have been judging them and thinking that they're bad homeowners. His dad has done it in the past, but Zach was out visiting them anyway, and after a couple days had volunteered. He walks back in the house, toeing off his sneakers and slipping on a pair of plastic sandals, while he looks out the back window and down toward the road.

 

Zach hears the rumble of Jordan's car long before he can see it. It's not that Jordan takes bad care of it, or anything, it's just noisy, especially near the lake. Midweek, when everyone else, except for a couple of teenagers a few houses on, is still at work, things get very quiet out here. Zach gets why his dad likes it out here; the only place quieter is on ice, after everyone's left, and there's only the lonely carom of the puck off the boards and back if he misses a shot.

 

Car's loud, is all.

 

When it breaks through the trees, onto the dirt drive, Zach comes out of the house, stepping down the stairs as his sandals flip against his heels. Jordan fishtails the car, so the passenger side door is nearer to the house. Zach doesn't open it, Jonny gets out and straightens up himself, looking around. Zach pulls Jonny into a tight half-hug, half-back slap, before he can really think about. It's been a while, really, and that's it. He closes his eyes for a second; the feeling of Jonny's shoulder under his hand is something he hadn't known he'd missed, and it fills a deep sort of concerned feeling in him. Zach steps back, then, and opens his eyes to find Jordan standing by the driver's side, grinning at him. Zach stares back, and then glances at Jonny, who won't look back from his view of the trees on the west side of the house.

 

"Hey, Zachy." Zach rolls his eyes at Jordan.

 

"Yes? Jonny, you got stuff?" Jonny nods, walking back and pulling a backpack out of the back seat. "Yeah, you can drop it inside, I'll have to show you Jordan's and my old room."

 

"Dude, did you at least take down the posters?" Jonny looks over, and Jordan explains, "Me and Zachy put up a ton of posters in there. Couple of baseball ones, mostly hockey. I'm just saying, that could be kinda creepy, you know." Jordan raises his eyebrows; Zach tries to think about how it's a bad idea to hit his brother, and Jonny doesn't seem to have been affected by any of it.

 

"Oh, okay. Cool. Can I go in, guys? It's been a long trip." Zach steps aside, and Jonny slides his backpack on one shoulder, and heads up the stairs. Zach does not watch him go.

 

"How's it been?"

 

Jordan appears to be serious, and Zach starts; "Well, I was getting the lake front cleared up. Put the dock in the other day, which wasn't too hard. Seems smaller than it used to. And, yeah, I took down some of the stuff we had on the walls," seeing Jordan's smile, Zach continues, "not like, anything big. Just some of the newspaper ones. I didn't throw them out, if you wanna come in and get them?"

 

"Nah, it's fine. I gotta get back, get ready for tonight." Zach must look surprised, or something, because Jordan laughs. "Come on, I can actually date. She's nice, you know. We're doing something classy; I'm supposed to pick her up at seven, take her out somewhere good."

 

"What, not the bar down the street?" Zach grins back. "She must be doing good things for you."

 

Jordan nods and smiles. "Yeah. And you?" Which, oh, Zach knows exactly what this is about, and he's not going to respond. It's dumb, he's not gonna bring Jonny into some conversation they're having about dating and whatever. Zach's certainly never taken Jonny on a date, anyway, and he's sure he hasn't been on any secret dates with Jonny himself.

 

"Jordan, don't."

 

Jordan looks at Zach like there's something he wants to say, and holds his hands up, like Zach's taken him hostage to weird relationship ideas, or something. "Just. Okay, Zach." He ducks back into the car and starts it, while Zach stands there, frowningly slightly. He does wave, as Jordan reverses out, and pulls away.

 

It is probably a chicken move to stand out here while Jonny's in the house. Really chicken. Eventually, Zach walks up the stairs, and pulls the screen door back, letting it bang so Jonny'll know he's in.

 

The inside of the house is dark; Zach has to blink back all the brightness before he sees Jonny, sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of water. He looks the same, sort of plain and stupidly, totally, entirely appealing. The summer's been good to him, there's a kind of glow over the usual solidity, and Zach nods to himself, before he gets really dumb about this. "Hey, good seeing you, man."

 

Jonny drinks deeply before replying. "Yeah," and Zach openly looks at the length of his throat. "So, I thought you'd be in Fairbault."

 

Zach shakes his head, knocking everything clear. They're just here, Jonny hasn't indicated that he even intended to continue whatever they were doing in the off-season, or anything. It's nothing special. "No, just looking over this place for my parents. I don't go down there all the time." Which is mean, since Jonny did come down to be a good kid, a decent graduate. It's not true, either; Zach was just there, too, visited Shattuck, and shouldn't be doing this. He's not sure why he's felt the need to be so mean.

 

Jonny smiles broadly, in the same way he always does: quirking up one corner of his mouth, and sort of sticking out his chin. "Sure. Your mom said the same thing when I visited."

 

Zach starts laughing then, and Jonny joins in. "Dude, was not expecting that." It's fun, even if Zach can't really think because he's laughing too hard. He did not expect that from Jonny, like, at all. It's not the kind of thing Jonny says, has ever said, even when he's gotten really drunk.

 

Jonny's eyes are still wide and bright when Zach recovers, swiping the water glass to drink. And, for sure, Zach knows that Jonny's watching him, so he plays it up. Leans back more than he needs to, and licks his lips when he's done. "Yeah, okay then. I didn't mean to say it, you know. She really did ask why you weren't there." Of course she did, Zach knows that.

 

There's a cloud over the sun, for a second and it makes Jonny serious again."I didn't mean to like, get in the way. Jordan said I oughta come up."

 

Zach thinks about this. Jordan can get insistent about weird stuff, there's no doubt that Jonny was intending on doing this, on being here. "You called him up?"

 

"Yeah, you weren't answering. The airport wasn't that interesting, you know." Zach feels immediately guilty, and ambles over to check his phone, brushing past Jonny to reach over and get it. There it is, two texts and a voicemail from Jonny.

 

Zach frowns. "I'm sorry, then. I would've got you, you didn't have to listen to Jordan all the way out." Jonny shakes his head, because, yeah, fine, they're old college friends, he doesn't have to be envious or something, it's fine whatever happens. Really. "You wanna beer, see what I was doing all morning?"

The fridge hums when Zach pulls open the door, and grabs two bottles. Jonny stands up, and leans against the counter, while Zach cracks them, and hands one to Jonny, the carbonation smoking off. Zach pulls one of the chairs out to the back, so that he can look over the lake. When Jonny slips out the door, Zach doesn't respond to his presence until Jonny's dragged another chair up, next to Zach.

 

They sit out on the deck; it wraps around the corner of the house, coming halfway up each side. Jonny tucks one hand under his bent knee and leans away from it, and into Zach.

 

"Didn't know you were out here, though."

 

"Yeah, well, I didn't mention it."

 

Jonny thinks about this, and bites the center of his bottom lip, flattening the fat curve out, so it almost disappears in profile. "There isn't a flight back to Winnipeg until tomorrow." He says it like it's a fact he's somehow responsible for, like he's convinced Northwest to not fly at all, to shut down all their planes, and Zach's stuck with the stupid image of planes at the airport, lined up next to each other, just waiting for Jonny to give them the okay again.

 

"So I have to keep you?" Zach tries to spin the words so that they'll sound like the sort of thing that Jonny deserves anyway, plain and perfect from the very beginning. It doesn't work all that well; Zach isn't even sure what he really wants to say, either way.

 

Jonny nods. "Yeah, I think so." He makes a face.

 

"No, really. I mean, it'd be okay, right? You're not, you know, that bad." Zach smiles, just in case Jonny's particularly serious, and doesn't get it. Or thinks it's what Zach's actually saying, and not just trying to brush off, act like he'd be able to do something other than be totally hung up on Jonny.

 

"Sure?" Jonny stares out at the lake. It's slightly choppy today, not great for going out on, and Zach doesn't see anything interesting in it.

 

"Dumbass, of course." Zach's not sure what to say; is he sure about this -- no, does he want Jonny to at least respond -- yes, and so he's ready with the joke.

 

Jonny doesn't smile; he stares at Zach, almost crossing his eyes with the effort, and then, makes up his mind. In one smooth movement, exactly like a clean pass on the ice, Jonny turns, and touches his lips to Zach's. It's not a hard play to get into, after that. Zach wraps his left hand around Jonny's neck; his index finger rides over the bristling ends of Jonny's hair, and when Zach moves, tilting so that he can kiss Jonny deeper, his whole hand slides up, grasping at the short strands between his fingers.

 

It's exactly what Zach's been thinking about, since they last did this, since the end of the season, since when Jordan called. It's better than any of that, though, and he sighs into the kiss, going deeper and wider every moment.