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The Garden

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"It's so quiet," Peter says. He slips further down in his chair, reaching an angle that suggests major spinal damage but is really just a response to a hot July afternoon.

Wield can hear Ellie and Edwin, at the bottom of the garden, deep into the topic of organic aphid control. From the field just beyond, Rosie's voice drifts (or, more accurately, explodes) as she tries out new commands on Tig. More distantly, there's the occasional car roaring too fast along the road and the baaas of complaining sheep.

Peter, who knows Wield well enough to read his face or guess his thoughts (neither one an easy task), adds, "Relatively speaking, I mean."

"You're right. It's peaceful. Thought I'd miss the town noises, at first, but I never did." Once, his first week in Eendale, he took the cry of a fox for a woman screaming. Edwin tackled him before he could rush out the door, luckily. Not something he's going to tell Peter.

Looking around the garden, Peter says, "How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned but with herbs and flowers?" From the faraway look in his eye, he's quoting something. Anyone else, it would be showing off. Even Ellie, who likes to remind herself she used to be an intellectual. But with Peter, it's just the way his thoughts go. "You two've done miracles with this garden."

"The sort of miracle where I worked like a navvy all spring." Most miracles probably involve a lot of blisters, come to think of it. "Mind you, we share the jobs. Edwin points, I dig."

"Poor old Wieldy. Welcome to domestic bliss." The light catches Peter's fair hair when he stretches and yawns, turning it golden. Leaf-shadows dapple his face and hide the faint lines that have started, these last few years, to mark him around the eyes and mouth. In his plain white shirt, unbuttoned at the throat, he looks like a boy. A boy in one of those costume films Edwin likes, playing cricket or punting along an Oxford river.

Wield looks at him for just a few moments, while his eyes are closed, and then Ellie and Edwin return and it's time for lunch.

Much later, when Wield and Edwin are alone, pressed together in bed and still breathing hard, Edwin says, "So, are you going to tell me about the great unrequited love story of Mid-Yorkshire CID? Or do I have to guess?"

Edwin misses nothing. He'd have made a first-rate lawyer, the terror of lying witnesses everywhere. Or a detective, even. "It's not like that," Wield answers.

To which Edwin raises one sardonic eyebrow.

Feeling more in the dock than in the witness box, Wield tries again. "I'm not saying I never noticed he's a good-looking lad. Straight as a carpenter's level, though. He didn't even know I were queer 'til Ellie told him. Took him a bit to adjust, after that. But then, once he'd got his head round it, he was my friend again like always. Looked out for me, too, when there might have been trouble from the brass. He's a good man."

"Edgar, weren't you meant to be disagreeing with what I said?" Edwin says it gently, though, without the pretense-dissolving acid he can put into his tone when he wants to. His fingers scritch softly over the short hairs on the back of Wield's head.

"Maybe I wished, sometimes." Closing his eyes, Wield rests his head on Edwin's chest. "But even if . . . it couldn't have ever happened. Not working together."

"And so . . ."

"And so I stopped thinking about it. And then he married Ellie." To look at two people so happy together, so right, and wish things otherwise takes a strain of selfishness that Wield's glad he doesn't possess. Ellie and Peter are a matched set, even if they don't look it. "Peter and Ellie and Rosie . . . they're my family." He kisses the arch of Edwin's collarbone.

"Well, I've drawn lucky in the in-law lottery, in that case."

For a few minutes, Wield says nothing. There's something he wants to say, but he's bad at declarations and Edwin tends to pour sarcasm on what he calls ludicrous romantic clichés. If there's ever going to be a good time, though, it's probably now, probably here. In bed like this, a person should be able to say anything. "Never thought I could be as happy as them, but."

Edwin is silent, and at first Wield thinks he's gone to sleep. Then he slides his arm a little tighter around Wield's waist. "Well, then, how fortunate that you met me."

"Fortunate I didn't take those first ten or twenty insults too personal." Hate at first sight, it was. Who could have imagined? But Edwin says it always happens that way in books.

Outside, a few night birds are calling as Wield starts to fall asleep in the quiet darkness.