Skye goes back for spring quarter and doesn't come home again until Christmas. It's one of those things that makes his conversations with his mom get weird: when he tells her he's staying for summer classes, she says, "Is it—um, how are you doing?" and he says, "I'm fine, just—I'm behind, I need the credits," and then she says, abruptly, "Is it easier or harder to stay clean on campus?" and he says, "I'm not—" and then stops, and thinks for a minute before finally saying, "It's—I guess it's—it's harder, because it's—because I know where to get it, because—but. I just feel less useless, and that. That helps. A lot, Mom." After that, she's quiet on the phone for a long, long moment and then she says, "Okay, kiddo," so he enrolls in accelerated level-three Spanish and English 164: Reading Gender and Sexuality in Pulp Fiction and the lone, dreaded Calculus class he needs to finish up his GEs; the last week of August, he gets back two As and an A- (math), and promptly photocopies the front page of his Calculus final (94%) and mails it—old-fashioned, with a stamp—to Daniel.
The downside of three terms straight without a real vacation is that at the end of it, he can barely keep his eyes open for twenty minutes at a time. During vacations when they were kids, he always had too much energy, too much time; they would be out on the river at dawn, trying to paddle to the Gulf of Mexico before it got hot, or playing in the silent twilit snow until their faces were red and their hands were numb, then stamping back into Skye's house, grinning until their cheeks hurt, while Skye's mom was still yawning over her first cup of coffee. It was a long time ago. Now he sleeps on the airport shuttle and he dozes in the waiting area by the gate, and then he closes his eyes while they're waiting to taxi and only opens them again when a flight attendant is leaning over him and saying, "Sir? Sir? We've landed."
Skye wipes hastily at his face and hauls out his backpack, mumbling, "Thanks, sorry," and she smiles at him even though he's probably got weird creases and drool all over his cheeks. Skye ducks his head and scrambles off the plane; he's had enough free sympathy to last him for years. He tries, and fails, to blink away the cobwebs while he stumbles out to the baggage claim to meet his mom, who hugs him so tight he can barely breathe and pats him like she's checking for injuries.
When she finally pulls back, she asks, "Do you have checked bags?"
"My duffle, yeah," Skye says, and she hugs him again. Then Skye falls asleep in the car and doesn't wake up until she's pulling into their driveway in Brunswick.
They have tofu curry and quinoa for dinner, and Skye has two slices of apple cake for dessert, and his mom hums along with their ancient record player, a little off-key, while they do the dishes. "How're you doing, really?" she asks, quietly, while Skye's putting away the silverware.
Skye swallows, and looks up at the ceiling, and manages, "I—" around the tight lump in his throat, before the phone rings.
She looks at him, and he nods, a little, so she picks up. "Hello?" she says, and then, "Oh, no, hi," and then, "No, he's—let me see, he was talking about going to shower, hold on and I'll check," and then she covers the mouthpiece with her hand and whispers, "It's Danny."
Skye hesitates, then nods. He holds out his hand, and she passes the phone over. "Hi," he says.
"Hey," Daniel says. Skye's mom turns off the record player as she leaves the kitchen.
"Hi," Skye repeats, and Daniel huffs a laugh into the mouthpiece and says,
"You said that already, dude."
Skye ducks his head a little, smiling. "Are you home?"
"Since yesterday," Daniel says. "I—you know, every relative I have in the entire universe is crammed into our house, so."
"You," Skye says, and then stops, and licks his lips. "Do you want to come over?" he says finally.
Daniel hesitates, a little. "Sorry," he says. "You just got in, didn't you?"
"Yeah," Skye says. "But, I mean. We could. I don't know, my records are all still here, we could play—my mom is home, she kills at Scrabble, you know."
"Do you want to go for a walk?" Daniel asks.
"Like," Skye says.
"Like, just a walk," Daniel says. "I know you're probably going to shiver and bitch and complain the whole time, like you didn't live here for eighteen years or anything, but I—I kind of don't want to play Scrabble with your mom."
"Sorry," Skye says.
"No," Daniel says. "No, it's just, I mean. She kicks my ass, is all."
Skye smiles into the phone.
"I think she cheats," Daniel adds. "Last time we played, I think she used 'Q' and 'Z' on the same turn, that's just not—"
"Meet me by the market?" Skye asks.
"Sure," Daniel says. "Wear your scarf. And gloves this time, Jesus."
Skye hangs up on him and shuffles out of the kitchen. He's in socks, because it's cold, and the wood floors are slick and cool under his feet. The whole place smells like spices and apples and the eucalyptus soap his mom uses for everything from washing her hair to cleaning the windows, and something in Skye's chest unknots, millimeter by millimeter, with every breath. He knocks on his mom's door and calls, "I'm going to go meet Daniel."
"Do you need a ride?" she asks, pulling the door open suspiciously fast.
"Just to the market?" he says. "Nah, I'm good. We're gonna go for a walk, anyway. It'll be—invigorating."
She raises an eyebrow, like she doesn't quite believe him. "Your gloves are in the top drawer of your dresser," she says. "Scarf's by the door. Do you have your key?"
Skye rolls his eyes. "I am an all-the-way grown-up, you know," he says. "I do have my own apartment, for almost four years, now. I've never gotten locked out once."
"Don't be a smartass," she says. "Gloves. Scarf. And zip up your coat."
Skye sighs, but he kisses her on the cheek, too, and goes to change. She's sitting on the couch with a book when he comes back, and on his way out the door, he wiggles his gloved hands at her, grabs his scarf off its hook. She smiles at him, then looks back down at her book. Skye steps outside and breathes in, deep.
The air is cold—cool, really, probably; every time they've talked on the phone for the past month, his mom's marveled at how mild the weather's been, and he doesn't think it's much below freezing, but he's gotten used to California's breezy, honey-smooth sunshine; its grey, blanket-heavy winter rains. Last night's snow crunches under his boots and his breath steams in the air, his ears stinging, just a little, when the wind sneaks past his hair. Daniel's waiting outside the driveway to the darkened market, hands in his pockets, and he stands up straighter, a little, when he sees Skye come up.
"Hey, you," Daniel says, when Skye's close.
"Hi," Skye says. His cheeks hurt, a little, but it doesn't make him stop smiling. Daniel looks good; he's in jeans and old boots, his eyes crinkled up at the corners, more like Skye remembers from high school. Skye says, "Hi. Hey, um, do I get a—" but Daniel's already reading his mind, tugging him close.
The last time Skye had seen him was the last week of Daniel's summer vacation, which fell two weeks before Skye's summer finals. Daniel had the time, so he flew out to visit and crashed on Skye's couch and wore ratty tees and cargo shorts every day and got sunburnt, then tanned, just from walking with Skye to the grocery store and sitting across from him outside the coffee shop and reading while Skye did his homework. It had been weird between them until the fourth day, when Daniel had said, "You could ask, you know," and Skye had said, "okay, fine, fine, will you please help me with my fucking integrals, you fucking jackass," and Daniel had laughed and leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth, casual, like he had forgotten. When Skye pulled back, Daniel's ears and the back of his neck had been red, and he'd stammered, "I—um, do you have—I don't know about you, but I could use a cup of—" and Skye had said, "Two sugars, yeah?" and touched Daniel's shoulder, Daniel's wrist. Now Skye's face is pressed against the shoulder of Daniel's scratchy winter coat and the edge of his ancient orange scarf, and when he breathes in he smells Tide and Daniel and snow.
"I missed you," Daniel tells him, and Skye can feel his mouth move. "You and your stupid hair."
Skye laughs and pulls back, a little. Daniel slides his hand over the small of Skye's back as he turns, so Skye stays close to him, their hips bumping as they start heading towards the water.
"I'm wearing a scarf," Skye points out. "And gloves. You and my mom totally ganged up on me."
"Yep," Daniel says. "I wasn't going to tell you, but we formed a club: People For the Perpetual Nagging of Skye Burton. We've got little cards and everything."
Skye laughs, leaning his shoulder into Daniel's. "It wouldn't surprise me," he says. "After the—the scheduled phone calls and whatnot. I don't think I made it two days last spring without talking to one or the other of you."
Skye didn't quite mean for it to come out as an accusation, didn't quite plan for the sharp edges of those words, but he can't figure out how to take it back, or even if he should. His first term back in California, Skye had Spanish 172 every morning at ten and English 139 on Mondays and Wednesdays at one and Film Criticism for four hours every Wednesday night and he played ultimate in the afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays and talked to Daniel at dinner or his mom during lunch or, sometimes—usually on Saturdays—both. The hard part was how little he remembered how to be honest, not in that he wanted to lie to them, but in that he couldn't quite remember how to put together this sort of utterly mundane conversation, where his mom talked about her students and the hens, where Daniel did scathing imitations of his TAs and complained about the basketball team, where Skye struggled to say we are reading Como agua para chocolate in class; I am thinking about trying out for intramurals; my roommate is peculiar, but nonetheless interesting and welcome company. Sometimes his mom cried, for no reason, really, and Skye struggled to say, "No, Mom, I'm—I'm fine, I am, I'm just—it's weird, I'm still getting my feet back under me," cupping his hand around his cell phone, huddled on the benches outside the Jamba Juice in the student union. Sometimes Daniel got quiet, and Skye's throat would start to hurt, and after a minute Daniel would change the subject and Skye would press the heel of his hand to his forehead and breathe in, out, in, and try to remember how it worked, before.
"There wasn't a schedule," Daniel says, after a minute.
"What?" Skye says, blinking back. Daniel's still close by his side, and they're still walking, hands in their pockets, shoulders brushing.
"There wasn't a schedule," Daniel repeats quietly. "I—I missed you, and I—if I called too much, I'm sorry."
Skye licks his lips. "You didn't call too much."
"I wasn't—I wasn't, like, babysitting you, or anything," Daniel says. "I was just—I missed you. I—I miss you. I worry about you."
Skye swallows and turns, touching Daniel's arm. "You didn't call too much," he says, when Daniel stops to look at him. "I'm sorry. That was a dick thing to say."
Daniel stuffs his hands deeper in his pockets. "I think I should probably say that I'm still in love with you," he says. He sounds sort of apologetic. "I think—I mean—your mom took me to a—to this meeting, a few times, for people that—for people who are close to people who have—for people who are close to addicts." He stops and takes a breath. "I mean. I know that—I mean, it's important that I be honest with you, and I know that, and I. I'm still in love with you, and I just feel like I need to say that, if—I mean, I'm. I'm trying to be honest. So I want you to be okay and when you're gone I worry about you and a big part of that is, you know, just, totally selfish, because I'm still in love with you, but."
Skye swallows. "Daniel," he says.
"Yeah," Daniel says. "I—whatever, you know? You're—it's, I'm not trying to. Whatever. You're—you're my best friend, I've known you for a million years, it's—it's pretty fucking secondary, you know? But."
"It's not secondary," Skye says.
"No, I mean it," Daniel says. "I mean, I—when you were seven you used to pick your nose and wipe it on the seat of the car, you know? I—there's all that too, and I—"
"It's not secondary," Skye says. "Daniel."
Daniel takes a deep breath.
"I haven't kissed you in two years," Skye says.
"You," Daniel says. "At—the coffee shop, this summer, I—"
Skye scrubs at his face. "Yeah," he says. "I remember. I just mean—it was. It was winter break, sophomore year. When I."
Daniel's quiet for a long time. "Yeah," he says finally. "I remember."
Skye shrugs a little.
"Were you using then?" Daniel asks.
"Yeah," Skye says. "I mean, I—yeah. It was. It. Stuff got worse, later."
"Yeah," Daniel says, and looks at the ground.
"I'm really fucking sorry," Skye says, and takes a long, deep, shaky breath. "I feel like—I keep saying that, to you, and to—to my mom, and I—I can't—sometimes I don't know if it's going to really be okay ever again and I—"
"Hey," Daniel says, stepping close, touching Skye's cheeks. "Hey, Skye. Hey."
"I'm sorry," Skye says, throat tight, "I—I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, Danny."
Daniel flattens his palms out on Skye's cheeks, his shoulders, and presses their foreheads together, and Skye gulps down air, again and again and again, while Daniel touches his cheeks and his jaw and the corner of his mouth, until Skye can breathe normally again.
"You promised you wouldn't call me 'Danny' anymore," Daniel says. "Like, twelve years ago." His thumb is rubbing against the side of Skye's adam's apple, slow.
Skye huffs out a laugh. "Sorry," he whispers, and presses a kiss against the corner of Daniel's mouth, quick, like a dare.
Daniel exhales, slow. "It's cool," he says, sliding an arm around Skye's waist. "I forgive you."
Skye nods, once, and then kisses him again, for real. Daniel exhales against Skye's mouth, soft and open, and leans into him, and Skye's heart is beating fast against the undersides of his ribs, like the first time, sitting on the roof of Daniel's house with a half-pack of stolen cigarettes and the dark-blue comforter off Daniel's twin bed wrapped around their shoulders. It had been back before either of them really shaved, before Daniel really filled out, when the comforter wrapped all the way around both of them easily even if they didn't sit with their knees pulled up and their sides pressed together, but they did it anyway. Skye's heart had been beating fast against the undersides of his ribs as he leaned towards Daniel, hesitant, and Daniel had said, very seriously, "You're going to kiss me." At the time, Skye hadn't been able to tell if it was permission or prophecy, but he'd done it anyway, and Daniel had opened his mouth, a little tentatively, and Skye felt the first touch of Daniel's tongue against his like a static shock. Skye had gone home with the cigarettes, untouched, shoved in his pocket, and spent the rest of that week feeling phantom touches against skin that still felt like it was buzzing. This time, Daniel doesn't pull back for a long, long time, but when he does, his ears are red from the cold, and Skye is shivering.
"Hey," Daniel whispers, touching Skye's cheek again. "Hey, here." He digs around in his pocket and pulls out a beanie, tugs it over Skye's hair; "stupid," he whispers, tucking Skye's hair back and tugging the beanie down over Skye's ears, "you'd think it'd at least keep you warm."
"M'okay," Skye says. "I'm just. Not used to it. It's a lot warmer, in California."
"I know," Daniel says. "It's nice. I remember."
"You could come back," Skye says.
"Yeah," Daniel says. "Spring break, or something. Maybe after graduation."
"Yeah," Skye says. His cheeks hurt. Daniel ducks his head.
"Walk?" Daniel asks, after a second, and bumps their elbows together. He's still looking down at the ground.
"Yeah," Skye says, and puts his hands in his pockets.
The snow crunches under their feet. Their breath puffs in clouds. The moonlight is glistening on the frost on the high branches, pale and bright, and Skye touches Daniel's side, once, quick. Daniel looks up, quirking his eyebrow, and Skye catches his breath.
That first month, the very first month, after Skye paused on his bike outside the blue house on Brookview and watched, silent, while a new man and a new woman called instructions to two new kids scrambling through a storm of boxes and battered furniture and the third kid stood, silent, and watched Skye back—that whole first month, Skye had thought that quirk was the closest Daniel could come to smiling. He had spent that whole July wondering what had made Daniel's face so round and smooth and serious, because everyone else in his family was loud and laughed and yelled a lot. That summer, Daniel's bike had been pretty new, a Christmas present the winter before, and he and Skye had pedaled around their sticky-hot streets and the still, green-smelling earth and then down to the water, stretching out before them, blue and dark and wide. Skye had talked a lot about the water, about being out on the boat with his mom and apricots and cheese sandwiches, about how he was getting just about big enough to really help row. Daniel had squinted at him, feet braced on either side of his pedals and watched and listened, and then he'd asked where they went, Skye and his mom, but Skye and his mom didn't really go anywhere, really, just out onto the river, where all there was was air and sun and water; bird calls stretched thin through heat-thick air; and movement, when he managed to pull just hard enough and his arms ached and the boat slid forward, slow. And then Daniel had grinned at him for the first time, the very first time, and said, okay, let's go.