The lake was so cold it shocked the air out of Kyr’s lungs and he floundered for a long minute before he felt the rocky lakebed beneath his feet and could push himself back up to the air. He took a deep breath and swam back to the dock, splashing water at Solan, who had refused to get into the water until his food had had a chance to settle. Solan kicked out lazily at him and Kyr grabbed his ankle, dragging him halfway off the dock before he lost his grip.
“You’re not going to die in five feet of water,” Kyr said, standing up to demonstrate how shallow the lake was by the dock. “Grow some fuckin’ balls and get in here before I throw you in here.”
“You couldn’t throw me anywhere with a catapult.” Solan crossed his legs again, further back from the edge of the dock, and ducked a gust of wind that blew his dark hair across his face. “And it feels like a storm’s coming in.”
“Any other excuses?”
“Yeah, I think you gave me a splinter in my butt dragging me like that.”
“You’ve already got its big brother up your ass.” Kyr splashed him again and moved away from the dock, settling into the water once the lakebed dropped off. He swam all the way out to the float in the middle of the lake and hung off the aluminum ladder on its side for a few minutes to catch his breath, thinking that they’d come up just in time; another week or two and the float would be brought in for the winter. He could see Solan still sitting on the dock, his face turned up towards the clouding sky, and Jax in the water off to his right, working on his butterfly stroke. Ravi hadn’t bothered to join them even after half an hour, and Kyr suspected he’d just gone back to bed.
Solan got to his feet and stood looking at the water for a moment. Kyr didn’t need to see him up close to know his mouth was turned down in the little frown he always got when he was debating what to do. Finally he took a step back then launched himself off the dock, pulling his knees up under him so he hit the lake in a cannonball, splattering the air with cold water. He yelped as he came back up to the surface and immediately stroked out for the float.
“Cold?” Kyr asked innocently when he came within speaking distance. Solan favoured him with a narrow look and hauled himself up onto the float, rubbing at his arms, where goosebumps pebbled his skin. After a moment spent admiring the view afforded by wet boxers, Kyr climbed the ladder to join him, stretching out on the sun-warmed wood.
“So do you know what’s actually on your history test?” Solan asked just as he was drifting off into a doze.
“The only thing that’s going to be history is you if you don’t shut up,” Kyr muttered into his arm. “We’re on vacation. School doesn’t fuckin’ exist for another two days.”
“Yeah, but then it’s going to exist right up your ass because you won’t know what’s on the test.”
“I’ll know what’s on the test. You’re like my mother or something.” He thought of sleepy kisses stolen in the dark and smiled a bit. “Kinda.”
“The one who wants you to join the army?”
Kyr felt his smile fade. “No. That’s my stepmother. My mom, my real mom, she died a while back, when I was a kid.”
“I’m sorry.” Lake-cold fingers touched his shoulder briefly, making him wish they’d settle there until they warmed.
“Like I said, it was a while ago.” He pushed himself up to sit cross-legged, blowing a lock of half-dry hair out of his eyes. “What about your parents, since we’re sharing?”
“Still married.” Hazel eyes went distant. “They worked really hard to send me to the Academy. Double shifts and an old car hard.” His fingers crept up to tug on the silver cuff in his right ear, a habit Kyr had dismissed as similar to his own absent urge to click his tongue stud against his teeth. “They want me to make something of myself.”
“But they love you. Double shifts and an old car love.” He mimicked Solan’s voice on the last sentence and was reward first by a startled look, then by an amused grin. It took a huge effort not to reach out and trace that smile, but he fought the urge down by reminding himself that drunk kisses or not, Solan was obviously not interested. “So what are you going to make of yourself?”
“My mom wants me to be a doctor.” He absently pried a chunk of wood out of the top of the float and bent it back and forth in his hands. “But I think I might want to do something in research. I’ve applied to a couple of universities with good research programs. If not...” He shrugged. “Maybe I will become a doctor. You?”
“I’m going to be a rich asshole.” Kyr grinned. “Or join the army.”
“Why don’t you try getting into art school?”
“Because I can’t.”
“Yes you can. You’re good, I keep telling you that.”
“You’re my friend. You’re supposed to tell me shit like that,” Kyr said, more sharply than he intended. Solan flinched as though he’d been slapped and returned his attention to the piece of wood in his hands.
“Well, I guess friend is better than mother,” he said after a moment of awkward silence, smiling a little. “I’m still going to bug you about the test.”
“Fine.” Kyr pushed himself to his feet and held out a hand to help Solan up. “Race you back to the dock?”
Solan took his hand and Kyr pulled him up, but continued the movement as Solan got to his feet, twisting around to place his hands flat against Solan’s back and shove even as he felt muscles flex under his palms. Solan only managed a yelp before he hit the water and disappeared under it, and Kyr laughed, waiting for him to come sputtering up to the surface. A few bubbles rose but Solan didn’t, and Kyr felt his smile fade into unease as the water’s surface remained calm.
“Solo?” He put his hands on his thighs and leaned over, trying to see through the dark water and the rocking of the float. “Where the fuck did you go?”
Cold arms wrapped around his waist from behind, yanking him back and off the other side of the float, and he made a noise that he insisted later was definitely not a scream. Lake water invaded his nose and mouth, and the arms around him released their hold, letting him kick up to the surface and cling to the float, glaring as Solan came up for air already laughing.
“You sounded like a dying chicken,” Solan managed between helpless gusts of laughter. “I wish somebody recorded it.” He leaned his head against the float and closed his eyes, still laughing so hard he wheezed. Kyr floated with the fingers of one hand tangled in the float’s ropes, watching him laugh and smiling despite himself.
“Now can we swim back?” he asked when Solan finally calmed down. “My fingers are fucking prunes.” He held his free hand up as proof. “Truce, no more dunking.”
Solan took his hand and shook it, startling him. “Truce.” His mouth twitched. “It was definitely a dying chicken.”
“Suck a dick, Solo.” Kyr splashed him and started back for the dock.
Jax was already waiting for them, shading his eyes against the last glare of the sun on the water. Overhead the clouds were getting thicker and turning an ominous dark gray, and the wind picked up enough to chill them in their wet shorts. By mutual silent agreement they hurried back up to the house and Kyr handed out towels before going to check on Ravi, who was sleeping soundly under a pile of blankets in one of the guest rooms.
“Out like a baby,” he said in response to Jax’s question when he returned to the living room.
“Lightweight,” Jax said, rolling his eyes.
“More for us.” Kyr grabbed one of the full bottles and twisted the cap off, taking a long swig. “What are we having for dinner?”
“Baked beans unless you’ve got something else hidden away. The bacon and eggs were the last fresh food I found.” Jax glanced at Solan and his face turned hostile. “What’re you staring at?”
Solan held up his hands in a peace gesture. “Just thinking it’s kind of cool that you know how to cook. I’m not even allowed in the kitchen at home.”
“Me and Solo will go down to Pop’s,” Kyr said while Jax was still deciding whether to keep being offended or not. “He might have some fish available. If not, we’ll find something and bring it back. Okay?”
“Make sure it’s actually fresh fish this time. No slime.”
“You’re a slime.” Kyr took another swallow and set the half-empty beer bottle down on the counter. “Solo, go put some clothes on. I’ll meet you out front in five.”
Solan was already waiting for him outside on the front steps when he got out there, both of them wearing jeans and sweatshirts against the chill invading the air. Above them the sky was dark with clouds and a few raindrops had pattered down, though the real storm was still drifting slowly towards them. Kyr glanced up as he got in the car and judged they’d probably get to Pop’s little store before the rain hit, but the trip back along the winding little forest road could be interesting.
The rain started just as they came into sight of Pop’s store, little more than an old wooden shack at the crossroads between the nameless forest road that connected most of the cottages and the highway that led back to the city. When Kyr had been small enough to still hold his mother’s hand—when she had still been alive to hold his—there had been a geriatric wildcat in a cage outside during the summer and in a corner of the store during the winter. It had scared him at first, until he realized the wildcat had teeth flatter than his own and lived on a combination of finely chopped meat bits and porridge.
He parked as close to the store as he could and flipped his hood up before ducking out into the rain, which had gone from a dribble to a downpour in the minute it had taken him to park. Solan followed him at a run up onto the front porch, where at least there was some protection from the rain, until the wind whipped it sideways at them. Kyr opened the front door, listening to the familiar dull jingle of the bell above it, and led Solan inside.
The inside still smelled heavily of cigarette smoke and wet dog, though Kyr had never actually seen a dog anywhere around the place. Pop acknowledged them with a grunt and returned to flipping through an old comic book and scratching at his thinning grey hair. Inside it was at least warm and dry, and Kyr spent a few minutes browsing through the shelves with Solan tagging along behind him and occasionally poking at something interesting. The sound of the rain on the roof didn’t ease like Kyr had hoped it would; if anything it only got louder and stronger, and was soon accompanied by the mutter of thunder.
Eventually they gathered up some bread, milk, butter, and cheese—and a pack of dusty coloured pencils Solan found stuffed in a corner—and took them up to the counter so Kyr could argue Pop into selling them some of the fresh fish he kept in the back. Pop looked unimpressed at seeing him and even less impressed after a dismissive glance at Solan, but after a few minutes he agreed to let Kyr overpay him for the fish.
“I feel like I’m in some sort of movie,” Solan murmured in Kyr’s ear as they headed for the door with their purchases in plastic bags. “Or a hidden camera show.”
Kyr snorted a laugh. “I think he gets off on the whole fucking thing. Playing a part to keep the rich bastards happy.” He looked out the rain-smeared windows, squinting at the dark blob he assumed was his car, then shoved the door open and ran. Under the pounding rain he heard the splash of Solan running with him and they threw themselves into the car at nearly the same time, slamming their doors shut in unison.
“You okay to drive in this?” Solan asked, still panting a little from the run.
“I can drive in fuckin’ anything.” He glanced at Solan and grinned a little, handing over the bag still in his hands and starting the engine. “You look like a drowned rat.”
Solan looked at him from under dripping dark hair then snorted. “Just drive slow. We might actually make it back then.”
“Eat me.” Kyr reversed out of the space faster than he needed to, and put his foot down on the gas hard enough to make the car fishtail in the wet gravel when he turned the corner back onto the forest road. Beside him Solan gripped the bags in one arm, and dug the fingers of his other hand into the dashboard, bracing himself.
“Kyr, you made your point.” His voice cracked a little as the car’s wheels slid in dirt that had quickly turned to soupy mud in the driving rain. “Knock it off!”
Kyr glanced at him, saw how pale his cheeks had gone under his summer tan, and eased off on the gas. “All right, I was just—”
A gust of wind caught at the side of the car as they passed through an open section of the road and he instinctively turned into it, shoving his foot onto the brake with too much force for the slippery conditions. The car skidded and the wheels locked, sending it fishtailing off to one side of the road. Kyr tried to catch it and almost succeeded, only to overcorrect at the last second and send the car spinning the other way. The front wheels bumped over the raised earth at the edge of the road and the car tipped down towards the trees below, sliding off the road in a shower of mud and gravel.