Holden O'Neill was well known on his college campus. At least, he was among his group of peers, which consisted of the honors college, almost exclusively. It was unknown if he was a genius, or if he merely studied all night, every night. The general consensus was that it was somewhere in between those two extremes.
He was hardly the aloof, standoffish type, though. Holden had moved to the US from Ireland when he had been thirteen, and had never lost the Irish hospitality. Or his accent, which was another reason for his popularity. His black hair and blue-grey eyes, set on a face that was downright beautiful, certainly didn't hurt, either.
It was only reasonable, therefore, that Holden would be up to his elbows in women. However, he wasn't known to date. It wasn't that he didn't like women, or that he wasn't interested in a relationship. He was just…very picky. His thoughts were that he had a specific type, and wasn't willing to settle for less. Holden's ideal woman would be able to match wits with him, and willing to do so. She would be polite, but he loved a good sense of humor. She certainly wouldn't be the party-girl type; he couldn't stand those girls. Her idea of a fun night out would be a trip into town to see the symphony, or perhaps one of the college theater productions. As for appearance, he rather liked blondes, and that eye color like caramel that he had seen but a few times. He theoretically knew that he should care about her body, but Holden had always been a face person.
It was January, and the spring semester was just beginning at his university. Holden had finished his first day of classes, and was already trekking up the stairs to the University Honors building, where he was a staff member in all but name.
He spent little time at his apartment, since he lived alone, and the quiet bothered him. Perhaps he should get a pet, he mused, then dismissed the idea as quickly. He didn't have any luck with animals. He'd killed every fish he'd had as a child within a week, even though he hadn't done anything wrong. He was rather terrified to know what would happen to something like a dog or…a rabbit left in his care. That was a shame. He rather liked rabbits.
Thus, he did the majority of his work and studying in the pleasant confines of the honors building, with its honey-colored hardwood floors, and its deep green leather furniture. He claimed an empty table for himself, and began on his first reading assignment.
It wasn't but a few minutes later that one of his oldest friends pulled up a chair beside him.
"Brie," he greeted her with a nod.
"Hiya, Holden," she replied, plucking the open book from his hands to see what he had been reading. "Any particular reason you're reading Mein Kampf?"
"It's for Dr. Martin's class," he answered easily, stealing his book back from across the table.
"And I was having all sorts of fun coming up with conspiracy theories about you and your Nazi sympathies, damn," Brie sighed dramatically.
"Sorry to ruin your fun," Holden answered with a smile, marking his page with an embossed bookmark his mother had given him.
"You can make it up to me…" She replied, a note of inquiry in her voice. Holden looked up to find her pouting in a manner that she undoubtedly though was entreating and adorable. He found it mostly hilarious and ridiculous.
Nevertheless, he decided to indulge her. "How's that?"
"You remember my friend Hanna?" Brie said.
"What about her?" Holden asked, tilting his head, then shaking it when some of his hair fell into his eyes. Hanna had been one of the few people he'd ever met with those caramel-colored eyes. Too bad she had been obnoxious beyond all reason.
"Her cousin just transferred here… Would you mind showing Sky around?"
"That's her name, right? Sky?" Holden asked, for clarification.
"Yeah. Hanna asked me to do it, since she's skipping her first week to stay at her boyfriend's place. I would, except that I have debate meetings every evening this week, and a tournament this weekend…" Brie explained.
"First week back and you've got a tournament already? I thought this country outlawed slavery a few hundred years ago…" Holden said sympathetically, gaining a small laugh from Brie.
"Unfortunately it's volunteer slavery, and even though I hate it, I love it. So, will you do it?"
"Sure. I like meeting people," He replied with a grin. Brie gave out a small 'yay!' and immediately pulled out her phone, texting something for about a minute, before stuffing the device back in her pocket. A second later, Holden's own phone beeped at him, and he checked it, to find a text from Brie which bore an unfamiliar phone number.
"What's this?" He asked, just to make sure.
"Sky's number," she answered breezily.
"Alright. I'll take care of it," Holden said, saving the number in his own phone. He'd text her later, setting up somewhere to meet.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Brie said, obviously grateful to have someone to fob her responsibility off on.
He was about to mutter a 'no problem,' but Brie had already gathered her stuff and swished away. He tried to return to reading Mein Kampf, but kept getting distracted by the feeling that he should be doing something else. Right. Hanna's cousin.
He set his book aside and began composing a text.
Hi, we haven't met. My name's Holden. I'm supposed to show you around soon. I'm free every evening; just let me know when's good for you.
He'd read about half a page when his phone beeped with a reply.
Thank you so much! Will tomorrow evening be okay?
Proper English; none of that text talk he so despised. He was impressed. He hit the reply button.
Tomorrow evening is fine. Where would you like to meet?
He managed to read a full page and a half before the answer came.
Um, I don't really know my way around, but there's a coffee shop down the street from my apartment. It's on Crescent St. It's called…Morning Java or something.
Holden knew the place. Ironically, it was just down the street from his apartment as well, but it was an area with a lot of student housing.
I'll meet you there. 6:00?
He hadn't had a chance to read three lines.
Great! Thanks again.
Holden smiled over his phone, and then returned to his reading. He stayed in the building until it closed.
After his final class of the following day, Holden bypassed the honors hall entirely. If he rushed, he'd be able to get back to his apartment and shower before meeting Sky. Truth be told, he wasn't overly concerned about making a good impression on her, but he had hit the snooze button on his clock a few too many times that morning, leaving him without time for a shower if he'd wanted to make it to his eight AM on time.
He made it to his favorite dining hall, where his bike was leaning sadly against a rack with a few other stragglers. He unfastened the chain and hopped on, angling down the hill, and peddling through a park by the library. The park let out onto his street, and his building was only a few blocks from there. Once he arrived, he chained the bike to another rack, and went up the stairs to his single-bedroom apartment. He stripped as he walked through his bedroom, reminding himself futilely to pick up the clothes later that night. Holden's papers were impeccable, and his appearance was usually perfect, but his apartment was a complete mess. Just one more reason not to have visitors.
He jumped into the shower without waiting for the water to heat up and grimaced as he scrubbed two days of yuck out of his hair with lemon-scented shampoo. Feeling lazy, he used the shampoo for the rest of his body, since reaching the bar of soap on a ledge half a foot from his elbow was just too much effort. When the water that ran off his body was no longer full of bubbles and suds, he shut it off and got out, toweling off before he had a chance to be frozen by the January-chilled tile bathroom.
He checked his watch, sitting on the counter. Shit; he wouldn't have time to blow dry his hair and get to the coffee shop on time. Skipping that part of his usual ritual, he focused on getting dressed instead, unthinkingly grabbing dark jeans and one of his myriad button-down shirts. He was opening his front door when he remembered that he was supposed to wear shoes.
Finally, he made it to the coffee shop, a full ten minutes early, as it turned out. He idly ordered a hot chocolate, more for something warm to hold than because he wanted to drink it. He'd forgotten his gloves.
By the time six rolled around, Holden was a little bit worried—maybe Sky had gotten lost. Or had been talking about a different café on the same street with the same name…
He decided to wait until five past to text her, though. Things happened; he understood. He watched the clock on his phone. When 6:04 became 6:05, he picked it up to begin a text, but as he did so, the door to the shop opened, and he looked up, distracted. Ah, a man, not Sky. He turned back to his phone.
Did you get lost?
He stared until the screen lit up with a response.
Uh…no. I walked in a minute ago. Which one are you?
Curiously, Holden glanced around.
Look to the left side of the snack display. I'm wearing a blue shirt.
He sent the text and took his first sip of the lukewarm hot chocolate. Then, he looked up, and the man who had just walked in was approaching him. Ah. So it turned out that Sky was not Hanna's female cousin.
"Holden?" the young man asked once he was in the vicinity of the table. He cocked his head to the side, making some shaggy dark blond hair fall into his eyes. Caramel colored eyes.
"That's me," Holden said with a smile. "Have a seat. Er…unless you wanted to order anything."
Sky shook his head, taking the proffered chair. "I'm really sorry I'm late… I had to have a discussion with my landlady."
"What happened?" Holden asked.
"When I sent a two-hundred-fifty dollar check to Hanna asking her to put down the pet deposit in advance, I didn't think she'd take the money and go shopping," he frowned and sighed. "I thought it had been taken care of, so when my landlady saw me taking Nibbles for a walk, she tried to fine me, and it turned into something of a discussion."
"That was…not cool of her," Holden said, feeling his dislike for Hanna increase.
"It really wasn't…Now I'm out five hundred dollars… she owes me big time," he said bitterly. "But, uh, sorry for ranting. Hi. I'm Sky."
Holden smiled, a genuine one. "I had actually gathered that. Mind if I ask what kind of dog you have?"
"Dog? Oh," he laughed lightly. "Nibbles is my rabbit. She's leash trained," he explained, and Holden nodded in understanding. The conversation lulled, so Holden supplied. "You needed some help getting acquainted with the town?"
Sky started. "Yes. I have…uh…absolutely no sense of direction," he admitted sheepishly, leaning forward on his elbows, which caused some of his honey-blonde hair to flop in his face. Holden was absurdly tempted to brush it aside for him. Probably because he liked the color of the other man's eyes, but admitting that out loud would just be weird.
He glanced out the window. The sun was gone, and the west was only a few shades lighter than the eastern sky. "Hm…not great weather for looking around the city. However, the university is always well-lit. Shall we start there, for today?"
"That would be awesome, actually," Sky replied, "I've kind of missed my first two days of classes, and I don't want to be late tomorrow because I got lost."
Holden smiled. "That happened to me once," he remarked. "My first day of classes, freshman year. I had a class in a lecture hall on east campus…I didn't know where the building was, so I asked a sorority girl on the quad…she was either playing a cruel trick or genuinely confused, but she directed me to a science building a mile away from my class."
"That wasn't a very nice thing to do," Sky said, furrowing his brow.
"It taught me to find all my classes before the day I had to go to them. I'd say it was a valuable lesson learned," Holden said maturely, then, "But I was really pissed off at the time."
"I can imagine. So, uh…shall we?" Sky asked, already beginning to stand up. Holden followed suit, murmuring, "We shall," and adjusting his scarf a bit. They left the coffee shop together, both shivering and pausing to zip up jackets when they stepped outside.
"Do you know how to get to the university from your apartment, or should we start there?" Holden asked.
"I can get there, but if you know a shortcut, I'd be grateful for it. I live in the West Brooke complex over that way," he pointed up the street, and Holden had to smile. "No way. I live there, too."
"Irony! Then you should know some decent shortcuts," Sky replied.
"I do, in fact. If you'll follow me," he said, starting off toward their complex. Sky kept pace with him, nodding or asking questions when Holden pointed out landmarks along the way. When they reached the public library, and the path that ran through the park, Holden pointed it out.
"This is the way I usually get to campus. The path leads right to my favorite dining hall; I get breakfast there most mornings. There are more direct paths, though, if you don't like slogging through the wilderness."
"Wilderness?" Sky asked. Holden shrugged.
"Well, it's more wilderness-y than going a block over and then up University Boulevard."
"That is undoubtedly true," Sky said, dropping the matter. "On the other hand, I'm a terrible cook, so I'll be eating on campus whenever I can. Show me your secret shortcut?"
"It's hardly a secret," Holden said, suppressing a grin nevertheless. They crossed the empty street and followed the line of ornate lamp posts that marked the concrete path through the sycamores.
"Hey, Holden?" Sky asked. He replied with a simple, "Hm?" So Sky continued. "This is a question you probably get a lot, so feel free to smack me…"
"Yes, I really am from Ireland," Holden said.
"Ah, I had suspected, but that…isn't what I was going to ask," Sky said.
"Oh. Ten points for originality, then. That's usually the first personal question people ask me. What was your question?"
"I was going to ask if you happened to be a fan of The Catcher in the Rye."
"You know, I like the book just fine, but I wish my parents hadn't liked it quite so much. And, for the record, people don't ask me that much at all," he said, ending with a twinge of irony.
"What do people ask you a lot?" Sky questioned, sounding honestly curious. Holden thought about it for a second, and answered, "Am I from Ireland, do I speak Gaelic, am I single—and I'm not just saying that to sound conceited—how much do I charge to write essays for people, do I wear contacts, et cetera." Sky blinked, and laughed. "That sounds like it gets old."
"Trust me, it does. Ah, here we are," he said as the brightly lit streets of the University came into view. The first building they walked by was the large, unnamed dining hall that was colloquially known as The Mess, though not because of the food, which was a far sight better than most cafeteria slop. Holden pointed the building out, mentioning when it opened and closed, and then moved past it. The other buildings on this stretch were mostly freshman admissions and offices, not the sort of buildings one would have to worry about having classes in.
Classes. "Sky, you wouldn't happen to have a copy of your schedule on you, by chance?"
"Believe it or not, I do. Printed it off right before that run in with the landlady." Before Holden could ask, Sky was handing the folded sheet of paper over. They stepped closer to a light so that Holden could look over the locations.
"Hm," he said, at length, "You'll be in two of my classes. Epistemology and Civilizations. Out of curiosity, what's your major?"
"Anthropology. What's yours?"
"History," Holden said. His choice tended to surprise people, for some reason, but Sky merely took it in stride. Must have been because they had only known one another for half an hour, at that point.
They spent the next few hours exploring the campus, Holden pointing out shortcuts and interesting landmarks, explaining the history of some areas, and shamelessly geeking to his new friend. Sky was an attentive audience, matching Holden's jokes—no matter how subtle—with quips of his own. He respected that. He hated feeling stupid when people didn't catch his jokes and couldn't understand why he was smiling.
It was nearing nine o'clock when they came to the last stop on Sky's schedule. "Are you in the band?" Holden asked, as they slipped between the English and Chemistry buildings to get to the music hall.
"Orchestra, actually. I play the double bass," Sky said.
"That's like a big cello, right?" Holden asked, unsure.
"I'm impressed!" Sky exclaimed, "People usually ask me if it's some type of guitar."
"That was my second guess," Holden admitted, looking at the ground. "I always wanted to learn an instrument, but my parents didn't think it was worth my time when I was young, and I've never managed to get around to it since then."
"It's never too late to learn," Sky said, before realizing how cliché it sounded. He then made a face. "That belonged in a fortune cookie."
Holden grinned, deciding not to remark upon the statement. "The music hall is open until midnight. Want to go exploring?"
"Have you never been there before?" Sky asked.
"I've been a few times for recitals, but the recital hall is all of ten steps from the main entrance, and I don't know where anything else is in the building," he said, still looking at the pavement.
"I wouldn't mind checking it out," Sky said.
"Okay, then," Holden agreed, and they set off, pausing so that Holden could flash his ID before the sensor. The electronic lock beeped and turned green, and he pulled the door open, holding it for Sky and gesturing him in with a foppish bow. Sky answered in turn, gathering up his imaginary skirts and prancing through the frame.
Sky looked around the building's lobby, and immediately proclaimed, "This is about ten times nicer than my old school's music hall."
"It's one of the newest buildings on campus," Holden commented. "It was still in construction my freshman year. There was a big ceremony for its opening and everything." They both began wandering the halls, Holden following Sky for a while, since he was as clueless as to where anything was in this building as the transfer was. Within a few minutes, he had discovered the band and orchestra halls, as well as the music admin office, where he made a verbal note to talk to someone the next day. Holden smiled at that; he was half convinced that Sky had forgotten his presence.
But no, he was turning around. "I've kept you long enough, haven't I?"
"Only if you think you won't get lost tomorrow," Holden replied.
"Oh, I'll get lost, tomorrow. But thanks to your help, I won't be hopelessly lost."
"Your sense of direction really that bad?"
"Definitely," Sky answered earnestly, "I used to get lost in my own house. In my defense, I was five, and it was a big house, but…still."
"That's…impressive," Holden commented as they made their way out of the building and back to their apartment complex. When they arrived, it was officially past Holden's bedtime of nine-thirty PM. Sky's apartment, which he was sharing with his cousin, was on the way to his own, so he paused to say good night, and to ask when he wanted to meet to explore the rest of the town.
He hadn't been expecting Hanna to appear in the doorway as soon as it swung open. "Sky! Your goddamn rabbit ate my sock."
"Why did you put your sock in her hutch? Also, you owe me two-hundred fifty," Sky asked with a huff, slipping past her. Hanna glared, and seemed about to yell, but then she noticed Holden suddenly, for she switched over to smiling and preening in the blink of an eye.
"Hello, Holden. When Brie said she's find someone to look after my cousin, I didn't know she'd put the inconvenience on you," Hanna said with a pout. Holden wanted to slink off to his own place, but he still needed to make plans with Sky. He did his best to sound polite. "It was actually a lot of fun," he said honestly, "Er, can I come in for a minute?"
"Of course," Hanna said, smoothly stepping aside to allow him in. She wasn't expecting him to walk right by her after muttered thanks, though, clearly, and it irritated her, though she left well enough alone.
"Um, Sky?" He called down the short hallway.
Sky's head poked out one of the doors. "Sorry, I thought you'd left. Come in."
"I wanted to know when you wanted me to show you around the rest of the town," he said as he walked into Sky's domain, where he was unlatching a cage of some sort. Nibbles' hutch, he assumed.
"Ah, I figured that since Hanna is unexpectedly back from her boyfriend's place, she could do it."
"Well…if that's what you really want. I wouldn't mind doing it, though," Holden said. He blinked for a few seconds as a light brown creature jumped lightly from the cage. "Also, are you aware that your rabbit is the size of a Cocker Spaniel?"
"She ended up bigger than I expected, but she's very sweet," Sky said affectionately, scooping the rabbit up into his arms. She accepted the manhandling docilely, nose twitching. "Oh, uh, thanks for offering. Honestly, if I have to spend more than five minutes straight with Hanna, one of us ends up in danger of serious physical harm, so maybe I could impose on you this weekend…"
"That didn't take much convincing on my part," Holden said wryly, watching Sky plop the gigantic bunny on his neatly made bed, where she proceeded to hop about and sniff things.
Sky sighed, and sat on the edge of his bed. "My decision to transfer out here and move in with my cousin was ill-conceived. I've never been able to stand her… But there was some…drama at my old university that I just…couldn't deal with anymore."
"Never can get away from drama," Holden said bitterly, trying not to think about high school.
"Yeah… But, sorry for ranting again."
"Not a problem. If you ever need to do so in the future, I'm told that I'm a fairly good listener. And I have a gallon of ice cream in my freezer. It's chocolate and everything," Holden said, mostly trying to lighten the mood. He was rewarded with Sky cracking a smile, but it was gone just as quickly.
"Seriously, Sky," Holden said, and this time the blonde looked at him, "I just so happen to like you, and I don't genuinely like many people. If you need anything, I'm in C-207. It's the next building over from here, up the stairs. If Hanna gets too bad, I have a couch…somewhere…if you can find it. If not, I have a bathtub you can sleep in."
That time, Sky did laugh. "Thank you," he said. It was heartfelt. Holden smiled in return, and said his good nights. He was exhausted.
In the months that followed, it became inevitable that Holden and Sky were destined to be best friends—the kind that people wrote novels and made movies about. They studied together for their shared classes, and studied in the other's presence for their other classes. Holden found himself attending one hundred percent more orchestra concerts, often dragging his other friends with him. Sky attempted to give him piano lessons, but gave it up as a lost cause after two weeks. And Sky did take Holden up on that offer from the first evening they knew one another—he was a frequent guest in Holden's apartment, and he had, indeed, once slept in the bathtub, mostly just to be able to say that he had.
By the end of the semester, Hanna was about ready to kick her cousin out, even though she wouldn't have been able to afford the rent without him. Nevertheless, he decided that it would be safer to get a different roommate for the coming year. Holden, rather tired of living on his own, volunteered his services. Sky would be easy to live with, and he was rather fond of the overgrown bunny as well.
There was one thing that bothered Holden, though. He had first gotten the impression less than a week after they had met, and the thought disturbed him so much that he ignored it. Nevertheless, the fact remained. If Sky suddenly became female, he would have been Holden's type. Precisely. Down to the last detail. He had always been picky about who he dated, never willing to settle for someone who didn't meet his standards. Much as he loved having Sky as his best friend, it did rather irk him that the only person who was up to his standards was male.
Such were his thoughts as he cleaned his apartment thoroughly for the first time in…a while. He had survived all his finals, and was relatively certain that his four-point-o was still unthreatened. He, on the other hand, was feeling quite threatened by the sheer amount of junk he'd managed to accumulate. He wasn't totally disgusting; it was mostly old newspapers and scraps of notes, the odd book buried in the piles turning up here and there, rather than ancient boxes of petrified pizza. There had only been one of those, and Holden had been properly horrified.
At the moment, though, he was hanging upside-down, awkwardly, off the back of his newly-uncovered couch when a knock sounded on the door.
"Come in, it's open!" Holden shouted, and the door opened promptly. That had to be Sky.
"Holy shit, Holden, you have a couch!" he exclaimed. Holden fought in his crevasse behind the couch to get one arm into the open so that he could flip his friend off.
Sky laughed. "Need any help?"
"Yeah, actually. Could you bring a trash bag over here?" Footsteps, and a moment later, a bag fell to the ground by Holden's head. He shoved the pile of trash that had collected behind the couch into the bag. He looked left and right, and declared the area clean. As he pushed himself up against the floor, though, something terrifying happened, and the rest of Holden tilted over the back of the couch, leaving him trapped against the wall.
When he came out of his stunned state, the first thing he heard was Sky laughing, followed by, "Oh, God. Holden, are you okay?" The sentence was still punctuated with chuckles, but his enjoyment of Holden's clumsiness seemed to be fading.
"Help me," Holden said piteously, not being able to move enough to wriggle out from behind the sofa. "Gotcha," Sky acquiesced, and, first one end, and then the other, the couch moved forward enough that he could escape.
"Well, that was…embarrassing," Holden said once he'd stood up and brushed the dust off his black t-shirt. He climbed back over the couch, and flopped down on it, taking up the entire length, until Sky tickled his bare feet into moving enough that he could sit on one end.
"What's up?" Holden said, raising his head to glance at his friend.
"This is gonna sound really weird, and, honestly, it is, but I kind of need to talk to you about something. You know. Before we start sharing an apartment," Sky said, his voice shaking with controlled nervousness.
Holden sat up, and faced him directly, a questioning look on his face.
"I guess I really should have said something before we signed the lease, in case it weirds you out or something…but…I'm kind of a coward, if you haven't figured that out by now."
"Sky, what's wrong," Holden said, using his gentle voice.
"I'm gay," Sky blurted out, looking at the refrigerator, the clock, the carpet, anywhere but at him.
"Is that all?" Holden said, smiling quirkily. "That doesn't bother me a bit."
"R-really?" Sky did look at him then, caramel-colored eyes wide.
"Really," Holden assured him.
And it didn't bother him. At least, not in the way that Sky was afraid it would. After they had put their furniture into storage and gone home to their respective sides of the country, he was bothered a lot. Holden had always thought he was straight. Guys had never interested him as anything more than friends, and while the same had been true of ninety percent of girls, he had put that down to his pickiness.
However, a couple of very explicit dreams that he had toward the beginning of that summer break were enough to convince him that maybe, possibly, he was a little bit into guys as well.
Guy. One particular one. Who happened to be really goddamn perfect in every way.
Holden irritably rolled over in his bed, biting back the memories of his dream the previous night. The suppression was unsuccessful, and his mind replayed the dream in excruciating detail, and while his conscious was wracked with guilt over fantasizing about his best friend, somewhere a bit lower was rather appreciating the mental onslaught.
"Holden, Honey? Do you want to come downstairs for lunch?" his mom called. Holden sighed.
"Just a minute," he replied. He stood up and willed the minor problem in his pants to go away. After several moments of imagining his grandmother in a hot pink bikini, he succeeded. He had opened his door to go downstairs when his pocket lit up and beeped.
He checked the front display. It was a text from Sky, nothing unusual. He opened it.
Family's driving me crazy. How about you?
He replied with one hand as he walked down the stairs.
Tell me about it.
He set his phone next to the glass of apple juice his mom had already poured for him. He frowned. He'd stayed in his college town and worked for the past two summers, but his parents had finally convinced him to come home this year, since the following semester would be the start of his senior year and after that he'd officially be on his own. He would be twenty-two in two months, but his parents still treated him like he was in primary school. But they loved him and paid his tuition. It could have been worse.
His phone lit up with a reply just as his dad was walking in with the Chinese takeout, so he shoved it in his pocket and went to help him arrange everything on the table. Task accomplished, he opened the message from Sky.
Dad said I could use the lake house for a week or so. I think he's hoping I'll invite a girl. Interested in a vacation, just you, me, and Nibbles?
He smiled widely, and the butterflies came to life in his stomach.
Absolutely. Wait. You have a lake house?
He put his phone back in his pocket as his parents joined him at the table. He murmured the words to the blessing, and made the sign of the cross by rote. He'd grown up Catholic, and it was easier to pretend he still believed than to start a fight. He was a few bites into his sesame chicken when the reply came.
"You kids have those things glued to your hands," Holden's dad commented as Holden drew his phone out.
Um, yeah. I guess I never mentioned that my folks are pretty loaded. Anyway, the house is at Lake Tahoe, which is way the hell outta the way for you, I know, but I can buy you a plane ticket.
I'm totally in. When does this shit go down?
He managed another two bites before receiving a message.
Next week. Short notice, I know…
He swallowed, and replied.
It's cool. I was starting to go crazy, here by myself.
"Mom, dad, is it cool if I go on a trip with a friend next week?" Holden asked out of courtesy. He was going, no matter what they said. Both his parents looked up at him. "Where to?" his dad asked over a plate of Mongolian beef.
"Um. Nevada," Holden said awkwardly.
"We raised you better than to gamble," his dad said reproachfully. Holden had to keep from laughing. He could have phrased that a little better.
"No Dad. Not Vegas. Turns out my roommate's family has a lake house on Tahoe, and he invited me out for next week."
"Will you need to buy a plane ticket?" his mom asked.
Holden shook his head. "Sky's taking care of it."
She merely smiled. "I'm glad you've made such great friends. Have a good time next week."
"Yeah. Great friends," he repeated.
"Hm, dear? What did you say?"
"Nothing, mom. Just talking to myself."
Holden got off the plane in Reno and claimed his bag, casting about all the while for a familiar blond head with silly, adorable floppy hair. He almost missed him. The crowd pressing at the main entrance squeezed Holden, but a chance glance to the left showed Sky in a similar crowd that was flowing into the airport.
He made some people angry in his sudden cutting out of the mob, but he managed to catch Sky before he got very far.
"Sky!" he called, and the boy in question turned around, smiling wide. Holden melted. They met in an embrace that was just a little too close, that lingered just a little too long to be a typical manly bro-hug. Still, it was over too soon, and Holden was following Sky to his car, listening to him chatter.
"Sorry; I would have been in sooner, but I was nervous about leaving Nibbles in the car by herself…"
"No problem. I'm just glad to be out of my house," Holden replied. Sky smiled at him again.
"I think I forgot how much I love your accent," he said, and promptly turned bright red. "Um, sorry, that was weird."
Holden laughed it off, but the butterflies were awake again. They managed to get to the car, where Holden loaded his bag in next to Nibbles' hutch, keeping all the straps away from the wire. The rabbit was well named.
They had gotten out of the airport and onto the highway.
"This is the farthest west I've ever been," Holden commented, looking around at the mountains.
"It's nice, isn't it? I've lived out here all my life," Sky replied.
"What made you decide to come to college in New England, then? Not that I'm anything but thrilled that you did," he qualified.
"Drama," Sky said evasively. Holden could have kicked himself. He had forgotten. "Drama. Right."
"Um, a bad breakup was involved. Like, really bad. Creepy letters, suicide threats, stalking and everything…"
"Yikes. I can see why you've been avoiding the dating scene," Holden said thoughtlessly.
"It's not that I've been avoiding it. I just set my standards a lot higher after the Gil drama."
"Don't let them get too high, or you'll end up like me," Holden warned. The joke fell flat, and they rode in silence for a few minutes. However, they were too good of friends to let an awkward quiet hang over them for too long, so they were soon back to joking and quipping. Between both of them, and a month of absence, they had more than enough material to keep them entertained until Sky parked the car in front of a very nice cabin-styled house with a pier that jutted right out into the lake.
Holden got both their bags while Sky clipped the leash onto his rabbit and led her to the front door. He fumbled with the keys in his pocket for a moment before finding the right one, and opening the door.
"Will you take the bags into the bedroom? It's the door on the right, over there. I need to go get Nibbles' hutch," Sky said, and Holden nodded in agreement. He found the door easily enough, surprised only by the spaniel-sized rabbit that followed him into the room, freed of her leash.
The bedroom had two sets of bunk beds, with a wide walkway in between them. He set their bags down on the two bottom bunks, being selfish enough to give himself the one with a window that overlooked the lake. Sky entered the room a minute later, carrying the large cage and setting it down against the wall on Holden's side.
"I think it would be an understatement to say that this is a nice place," Holden said once the hutch was settled.
"And I haven't even given you the grand tour yet; come on," he motioned over his shoulder for Holden to follow him.
"First stop, the Kitchen. Note the sink and the pantry. Oh, and the fridge, fully stocked for your convenience by…someone in the area who my dad hired to clean the place up before we got here. To your left you'll see the dining room, which I doubt we'll use…"
The tour continued until they finally ended up on the end of the pier as the sun was setting in an array of orange and gold.
"I stand by my earlier convictions," Holden said, dangling his bare feet in the water, "This is a really nice place."
"I've always liked it here," Sky replied, "Never had the place to myself, though." Holden merely 'hmm'd and closed his eyes to soak in the sun's dying rays.
After a moment, Sky asked, "You okay? You look like you could nod off any second."
"I did have to get up in the middle of the night to make my flight…" Holden admitted.
"Try to stay awake while I attempt to cook dinner without causing a nuclear meltdown, and then you can sleep, okay? And rest up; we're swimming tomorrow."
Holden smiled, and got to his feet. "I'll do my best."
While the food—consisting entirely of Bagel Bites, something even Sky could cook—was in the oven, Holden helped himself a glass of the white wine which was sitting so invitingly on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, even though he knew that the alcohol wasn't going to help his staying awake thing.
Sky returned from the bathroom and exclaimed, "What's this? You broke into the booze without inviting me?" Holden grinned, and answered, "The booze is in the locked cabinet in the pantry, unfortunately. I did find this, though."
As Sky poured himself a glass, he said, "I actually do have the key to the liquor cabinet. Just…you know. An FYI."
"You don't want to see me shlossed," Holden replied. "I get grumpy and vulgar."
"Your Irish came out there, for a second. But really? Never took you for that type. I, on the other hand, giggle a lot when I'm boozed up."
"More so than you do sober?" Holden quipped, even though lassitude was already seeping into his bones. He wouldn't have any trouble sleeping.
"Much more," Sky replied, and opened his mouth to say something else, but the oven's timer cut him off and he went to go rescue the Bagel Bites before they burned.
Holden managed to keep his promise, but he was asleep as soon as his face hit the pillow.
He was awakened by the unfamiliar sound of ducks calling outside the window. He blinked a few times, and looked at the birds out the window before turning to check on Sky. He was still asleep. Getting to watch him was a rare treat; he was usually an early riser. He was bundled into his quilts like a caterpillar in a cocoon. It gave him a sweet, youthful appearance. Holden smiled. Cute. He tore his eyes away and focused on quietly getting a set of clothes from his bag and retrieving his shampoo and other necessities from the front pocket.
Showered, dressed, and shaven, he exited the bathroom, to find Sky gone. He frowned at that, but went into the kitchen anyway and made toast, buttered it and smothered it in strawberry jam. He ate four slices.
Sky walked in as he was finishing the last one, wearing nothing but his swim trunks. His hair was wet; he must have used the other shower.
"Why are you wearing clothes?"
"You're right, it did sound awkward when I said it like that," Sky said, "But my point stands. Swimming."
"Let me go change," Holden said, and went into the bedroom to quickly strip and don his trunks.
He followed Sky out onto the pier, and commented, "Won't the water be cold this early in the morning?"
"Yep. Therein lies the fun," Sky said wistfully.
"The…fun?" Holden replied skeptically.
"Yes. The fun." Sky's expression went from one of wistfulness to one full of pure evil. He pushed Holden from the edge of the pier, laughing when he hit the icy water and yelped like a dog. He himself jumped in a moment later, and echoed the noise.
"So much fun!" After that, words became useless as a rather immature water fight ensued between the two twenty-one-year-old college students. Within minutes, they both stopped feeling the cold. Somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter-hour later, an unofficial truce was called, with each thinking that they had won. Holden was the first to climb out of the water, and he sat on the edge of the pier, pushing his sodden hair from his eyes and shivering as the wind touched his skin.
Sky sat down next to him, not bothering with his own hair. For the first time since they'd met, Holden gathered the nerve to push his hair out of his face for him.
"That always drives me crazy," he muttered to Sky's stare, coloring hotly and looking away out over the water.
"You drive me crazy," Sky said with a smile, shaking his head and making his hair fall back in his face.
Holden was hurt. "What?"
Sky ignored him. "At the risk of our friendship, can I tell you something? I don't think I can hide it much longer." Holden just looked at him. Sky took a deep breath, and tried to stop shaking. Holden had a feeling that his shivering wasn't from the cold.
"Holden, I'm…really attracted to you. And not just in a damn-you're-hot way, although that's certainly a part of it…" he trailed off, as deep a shade of red as Holden had ever seen anyone turn. Meanwhile, his mind was turning between shock and elation. If ever there was a time for his own confessions, this would be it. He mimicked Sky's earlier breath, and began.
"Sky…listen to me. I'm notoriously picky about who I date, because I have this ideal person in my head who I thought could never actually exist. Then you came along and," he shook his head, "I'll admit that it bothered me for a while that you're, well, a guy, but you're far too perfect for something trite like that to get in the way of."
Sky looked up, and their eyes met for a second. "Are you saying that…"
He didn't have to finish the sentence. "Yes." And Holden moved Sky's hair out of his face again, if only to make sure he didn't have to eat it when he leaned in to kiss him. It was a short, chaste thing, mostly due to Holden's confidence failing. He retreated, and looked Sky directly in the eyes, as he rarely had the nerve to do. He was sure that the image of his caramel eyes, wide, his full lips, parted slightly in amazement, would never leave him.
"Is this real life?" Sky asked, at length.
Holden smiled. "It's not one of my dreams…they tend to be less…family-friendly than this." He had intended the statement as a joke, but Sky saw through to the truth of it.
"Holden…have you been having naughty dreams about me?"
"Um. Maybe," he said stupidly.
"That's…You know, I should be creeped out, but I'm mostly just flattered," Sky said, a laugh behind his words. The loud rumble from his stomach rather ruined the impact of the line, though.
"Yeah… You may have had four pieces of toast, but I haven't eaten today."
"Want to go inside then?" Holden asked, unable to ignore the warmth of joy in his stomach. "I'll even make you some toast. I make killer toast."
"I'd rather you made non-killer toast. I've been shocked half to death today, already. I don't want to find out what happens if that occurs twice," Sky said. Holden was incredibly relieved by this turn of conversation. He had been afraid that the easiness between them would change. And, well, it had, but for the better. The tenseness of secrets kept was gone.
They got up and went into the house, where Holden tried to make a detour into the bedroom to change. Sky caught him by the arm and declared, "No. You don't get to put on clothes. You look better without them."
Holden turned red, and the color intensified when Sky called him out on it. "You blush like a virgin."
"Er. That might be because I am." The laughing ceased.
"Well, duh. I know you've never been with a guy."
"No… I've never been with anyone," Holden said, emphasizing the last word.
"Nu-huh. You're way too gorgeous," Sky protested.
"No one was ever good enough for me," Holden said, wanting to sink into the woodworking.
"Don't worry, sweetie," Sky said, and Holden smiled at the endearment, "I think it's adorable. But you're still not allowed to put clothes on. And I'm still hungry."
"Yes," Holden said, and allowed himself to be led to the kitchen, due largely to the fact that the hand which had been gripping his arm had trailed down to intertwine with his own fingers. He was illogically dismayed when they disentangled, even though it was the only way he could make Sky's breakfast for him. The force of his gaze form behind him was very nearly a tangible thing.
"Now I understand why you wouldn't let me change, perv. Quit fantasizing," he grumbled.
"Holden, sweetie, I'm not coming up with anything your subconscious mind already hasn't, surely." Holden pressed the lever on the toaster and watched the coils glow bright orange. Sky continued. "But seriously…" there was a pause as he took a few steps forward, and without warning, put his arms around Holden's waist and pressed flush against him. "Those white swim trunks of yours must be considered a form of torture in some countries. They hide nothing." Holden shivered as the last words were whispered right against his ear.
Sky's arms suggested that he should turn around, and Holden did, leaning back against the counter. Hands settled on his hips, and lips met in a kiss that was much more active than their first one had been. Holden's breath started to quicken, and he could feel Sky's do the same. They finally broke apart, startled by the bread—now toast—popping out of the toaster. Holden tried to turn around to get a plate, but Sky stopped him with a kiss.
"Leave it," he said, and returned to what they both considered more important business. Sky's hands slid from his hips to cup his ass, providing enough lift for Holden to sit on the edge of the counter, so he could wrap his legs around Sky.
"Mm, you're hot," Sky murmured into Holden's mouth.
"Do you ever stop talking?" Holden replied in the same state of breathlessness.
"Depends. What can you do to shut me up?" Holden smirked at that, and brought his hips hard against Sky's.
"This," he said, grinding against the other boy as best he could with his less-than-perfect angle. Sure enough, Sky didn't say anything. Intelligible.
However, Sky's standing position was much more easily maneuverable than Holden's sitting one, and the dominance flipped, leaving Holden the one who was unable to form a coherent thought. Then, all of a sudden, the contact vanished, and Sky smirked at him.
"Better than your dreams? Anyway, toast."
"You—didn't your mother ever tell you to finish what you started?" Holden said incredulously, but he was already up and putting the cooled toast on a plate to butter.
"Mm, didn't yours ever tell you to be patient? We've got a cabin in the woods, and a whole week to ourselves. However shall we spend it?" The tone of his voice made Holden stop still, with the knife half in the tub of butter.
"Toast!" Sky demanded.
"I'm fooling around with the antichrist," Holden muttered to himself, busily buttering away.
"You might rethink that title when I have you shouting 'oh, God' later," Sky said, that infuriatingly sexy smirk on his face.
"Not. Helping. My opinion."
"Come on. You know you love it."
Holden sighed, and handed the plate of buttered toast to Sky. "I really do," he said, and didn't resist a lingering grope as he passed by. Sky almost dropped the plate.
"What was that?!"
"Two can play your game!" Holden called from the bedroom, where he was going to change into real clothes, if only for the fun of having them removed later.
Notes: This is an idea I've had for…oh, roughly two years. About a guy who's really picky with girls, and he meets his perfect match. Except that it's a guy. That being said, all the details changed as I was writing this. I could write a full length story about these two, but between 476 and Fragment, I don't have time to start something else. D: