"We're out of milk, again."
Jan looked up to see Mic silhouetted against the blue sky, his left hand holding an empty bottle.
"I'm off down to the farm to get some. I thought I'd see if they had any sausages to spare and a loaf of bread to sell us. Are you staying here or do you want to join me?"
He looked down at the chart he had been working on, outlining the area he'd surveyed the day before. Ah! Bloody birds! One had just dropped its mess on his carefully constructed diagram. It would need to be redone. Jan laid his pencil down in disgust.
"Just give me a minute. I'm due for a break and the walk will do me good."
He ducked into the A-frame tent for a minute and returned carrying his walking boots by their laces. Sitting down on one of the flat rocks near the edge of their campsite, Jan rolled wool socks onto his feet and then pulled open the neck of his left boot and stuck his foot in it. The laces of the right boot were hopelessly tangled and he cursed, trying to unravel the knot.
"Here, let me." Mic knelt before him and took the boot out of Jan's hand. He bent his head over the knot; his long slim fingers worked dextrously. "However did you manage this?"
"Last night," Jan said, "as I recall I was in something of a hurry to get them off." He smiled down at Mic as he spoke. Looking up, Mic's breath caught at the smile on Jan's face. Remembering, his own smile broke out over his own normally serious face, like sunshine breaking through clouds after rain. He reached up and stroked a finger lightly over the curve of Jan's bottom lip, before bending back to the task at hand. Bootlace untied, he picked up Jan's foot, and massaged it gently through the sock before easing it into the boot. The laces were tugged tight and tied firmly with a double bow.
They set an easy pace as they walked down the path along the side of the glen towards the farmhouse. It was a gloriously warm day. In the distance sheep could be seen grazing on the hillsides, their half grown lambs playing close to their mothers, coats looking snowy white in the distance. Presently, Mic stopped and unlooped the camera from round his neck. He knelt to adjust the lens, before he aimed carefully at an eagle circling overhead. It stooped and he cursed. Jan laughed.
"They never wait for me!"
"He's after his dinner, just as we are! Not interested in posing for the great wildlife photographer."
"I'm afraid I'll never be that, at the rate I'm going."
"Never mind. I like your photos even if you have taken more of trees and rocks than the birds."
"It's all very well, but the publisher won't pay me for those. At the rate I'm going I'll have to get back to playing with chemistry sets pretty soon."
Jan laughed again and reached down, holding a hand out to his friend. Mic's own came up readily to clasp it, as he levered to his feet. He slung the camera once more round his neck and the two set off again down the path. As they rounded a hill, a beautiful vista stretched before them: green and purple hills leading down to a rocky beach, and sparkling clear ocean beyond. Lewis was experiencing a rare day of bright sunshine. The distant horizon was swept with clouds, but nothing marred the blue sky closer to land. They passed a circle of standing stones; it was not one of any particular note, but marked the halfway point in their path to the farm. They walked on, taking a left fork that led along the side of a cliff.
Dogs' barking heralded their arrival at the farmhouse. The kitchen door opened to reveal the 14 year old daughter of the house, her face flushed from the heat of cooking, damp tendrils of hair curling round her cheeks. She dried her hands on her apron and smiled her welcome. Jan flashed back his own dazzling smile, and flirted gently with her, allowing her to practise her budding adolescent wiles. In the meantime, Mic negotiated with her mother for a freshly-baked loaf of bread, some eggs and butter, a pound of sausages, and some carrots, all of which were carefully packed in a rucksack Jan pulled onto one shoulder. Trading done with, they retraced their way towards camp.
"Fancy a swim?"
They had reached a fork just past the cliff. The left headed back to their tent; the right meandered down to the bay. They paused for a moment, looking out over the seascape; gulls called noisily overhead.
"Definitely. It's not often we get a beautiful day like today," said Mic.
They turned to follow the path leading downwards. The men picked their way carefully between rocks on the beach until they came to a small cove that was sheltered from the ocean breeze. Had it been more accessible it would surely have been a focal point for day trippers and holidaymakers. But where it was - on Lewis and without any road to it (let alone a decent one) - left it private. It was ideal for a quiet swim. They stripped down and plunged in. Jan was a strong swimmer, typically confident. Mic splashed competently in the shallows and looked for interesting seashells. Neither chose to stay in long. It might be a warm day but the north Atlantic remained resolutely cold. They dried themselves with their clothes and then spread them on the rocks to dry while they sunned themselves.
Jan fished into the rucksack and pulled out two generously sized pieces of shortbread; he'd been given them by the girl he'd charmed at the farmhouse. As he handed one over, Mic eyed Jan openly, admiring his lithe beautifully proportioned body. He had tanned quite brown this summer; he had that kind of skin. And his normally beech-brown hair had bleached out with all the work he'd been doing in the sun; there were now a few blond streaks in it. The overall effect was arresting.
"You are gorgeous, you know."
"I know!" Jan laughed. He took it for granted. "You're not so bad yourself, Mic." He'd lain back on a rock, staring up at the sky while he munched on the shortbread. Now he turned his head to one side and studied the friend sitting beside him. "You just need to laugh more. Your whole face changes when you smile."
Mic looked down into the grey eyes watching him. The light enhanced the greenish glint that was usually hidden, turning Jan's eyes almost hazel. "I do love you, you know."
"I know," came the casual reply, "and I love you. But you mustn't really. Oh, love me a little. I always like that. But not too much. That won't do you or me any good."
Mic was silent. He'd always known he'd have to find a proper job at the end of the summer and, given his bad luck with the camera, chances were he'd end up back in some lab at another university. This was time out of the real world for him: Jan's world, where he roamed free and was even paid for the privilege. Not for normal folk.
Fluttering off to one side attracted his attention and he turned to see a magnificent gannet preening itself on a nearby rock. He grabbed his camera, but before he could get closer it had flown off. He turned back to find Jan was half dressed, buttoning his shirt. It was the perfect pose and he quickly snapped it. He'd been trying all summer for a good photo of Jan. After putting the camera away, Mic pulled on his own clothes.
"Sorry Mic. I know it's a shame to leave so soon, but I really ought to get back. I need to finish that chart I was working on earlier." Jan picked up the rucksack, preparing to move off.
"That's all right," Mic said. "I got what I came for."