"Do you need help?" Christophe watched Georgi unload the boxes – if that's what they were called – from the back of his truck while the bees buzzed around him. A few were crawling on Georgi's bare face and arms but it didn't seem to bother him.
"They don't know you yet," Georgi said, like he was talking about a dog who needed to cautiously sniff Christophe's fingers before the wary look disappeared from his eyes.
Christophe didn't know Georgi very well yet either, even though he'd seen him on and off through the years on summer visits: a few words at the general store, waving when they passed each other on the road.
"You don't have one of those net hats?" Christophe was half wishing he had one himself or that he'd kept on with his work near the house. More bees – too many bees – were in the air, whirling around Georgi.
"They won't sting me." Georgi looked over with that intense gaze that made those occasional chats about the weather a disconcerting experience. A bee was resting on his cheek but he didn't brush it away. "I asked them not to."
Well, this had never come up in the general store. "Yeah, I talk to my trees sometimes." Mostly pleading with them to stay healthy and produce a lot of sweet juicy peaches to keep people from saying, the orchard has surely gone downhill since that Giacometti boy took over from his aunt.
"Do the trees talk back?" Georgi carried the boxes to the middle of the grove, between the rows of peach trees, three trips back and forth.
Christophe stayed by the truck. As long as the bees pollinated the orchard, Georgi could talk to them all he wanted. And as long as Georgi went sleeveless in the crisp spring air, flexing his biceps as he carried, squatting to gently fix the boxes just so, Christophe was more than happy to watch.
It had been a dull winter. Folks were welcoming and Christophe didn't feel excluded from the community but he still wasn't used to spending so many of his nights alone, just his pampered city cat to keep him company.
Christophe tipped his head to one side, trying to get a better view of Georgi's backside as he stood and rested his hands on the top of the stack of boxes.
Then the bees swarmed out of the hive, a dark mass rising into the air. Christophe stepped back and bumped into the truck. He fumbled behind him for the door handle, his heart pounding in his throat. "Georgi!" he called.
But Georgi just stood there and let the bees cover him, his face and chest and arms. Then he stretched out his arms and the bees dispersed, flying off in all directions through the orchard.
Christophe caught his breath. How had Georgi done that? Maybe some sort of bee pheromones? "Are you okay?" he said as Georgi walked back to the truck, perfectly calm.
"Give me your hand." Georgi held out his own.
Christophe grinned. "Are we going to dance like the bees?" But he placed his hand on Georgi's, palm to palm, and the surge of warmth he felt at that simple touch made him realise just how lonely he'd been.
Georgi whistled softly, a high piping sound, and a lone bee landed on the back of Christophe's hand.
Christophe tensed but he didn't pull away. The bee sat so still, Christophe could barely feel it against his skin. One second, two seconds, three. Then it flew away, wings blurring in the sun.
"Now they know you." Georgi squeezed Christophe's hand, a slight pressure and that unnerving eye contact, then let him go.
So bees were just like dogs after all. Christophe laughed and put his hand on Georgi's shoulder, just to stretch the contact out a while longer. "Are you some sort of bee witch?"
"I'll come check on them next week." Georgi let Christophe's hand rest for a few moments before he reached for the truck door.
"Stay a while," Christophe said. "I'll make you lunch."
"Sandwiches okay?" Christophe asked. He pushed the beet kvass to the back of the refrigerator (why had he let Victor talk him into trying it?) and pulled out a bottle of mineral water and a jar of olives. "I haven't got the hang of the big farm dinner yet, but there's lots of food."
"The trees seem healthy." Georgi sat down at the table. He looked a bit stiff, toying with his glass, and Christophe wondered if this wasn't a usual occurrence for him. Maybe outside Georgi's infamous summer romances, he spent a lot of time alone.
While Christophe sliced and buttered and stacked, Georgi told him about the community theatre group he wanted to start in the fall.
"Count me in," Christophe said and looked back over his shoulder just in time to catch Georgi's sudden smile. "I have star quality." He winked. "Maybe we'll play opposite each other."
Georgi looked down and Christophe turned away until lunch was ready and he joined Georgi at the table.
When they'd finished the sandwiches and the local gossip, Christophe opened a jar of his aunt's peach preserves, the second to last in the pantry, and they spread it over tiny scones.
"It tastes like summer," Georgi said.
Christophe reached over and put his hand on Georgi's arm, looking into Georgi's eyes with an intense gaze of his own. "Thank you for keeping me company."
Georgi's lips parted but he didn't speak, just looked back, fresh as the green buds on the peach trees, and when Christophe leaned in, Georgi moved to meet him.
Christophe let it happen slowly, their mouths clinging, his fingers brushing Georgi's cheek. A few soft kisses at the kitchen table.
Then Georgi turned his head and kissed Christophe's palm. "You taste like summer too."
A surge of desire went through Christophe like the sap rising in the trees in springtime. He ran his thumb over Georgi's lips. "Come to bed with me."
"Of course," Georgi said, like it was the only reason he was here.
Christophe pulled Georgi up from the chair and kissed him again, so hungry for the press of his body, the touch of his hands. They kissed down the hallway, into the bedroom, and Christophe shooed out the cat and closed the door.
A bright patch of sun warmed the bed and they lay down and moved together, slow and sweet like the pour of honey from a spoon.
After a while, the room began to dim, like a storm cloud was passing over the sun. But when Christophe looked over, the windowpane was thick with bees, crowding together and blocking the light, their humming vibrating through the glass.
"Look at me," Georgi said but Christophe couldn't look away from the window. Then Georgi put his hand on Christophe's face and turned his head so they were staring at each other in the twilight until the end.
And as Christophe held Georgi for a long collapsed moment, waiting for him to breathe again, the room brightened and the sun reached the bed, a sheet of warm light lying over their tangled legs.
"Thank you for keeping me company," Georgi said.
Christophe laughed and looked out the window, clear glass, clear sky. Maybe he'd imagined it. "Towels in the bathroom." He kissed Georgi on the cheek and went to clear the table.
The next day, Christophe went out to the orchard to finish mulching. The bees were in the air, passing him by, searching for the opening blossoms.
Christophe rested his palm on the trunk of a tree. "We're in this together," he said to it.
A bee landed on the back of his hand. His first instinct was to shake it off, but instead he let it stay and watched it preen itself until it flew away.
He took out his phone.
Come over any time. The bees miss you.