“Is this it?”
Nursey feels like they’re in the middle of nowhere.
All four of them drove separately to get here and Dex was here first, but the fact that he’s still standing outside the home makes Nursey hesitate. Like, the place is definitely worse for wear. Overgrown and spooky as though it’s been abandoned for awhile. But Dex had told him that he hadn’t been here in years, since he was in high school, so maybe this isn’t actually the right one.
“This is it,” Dex confirms.
Nursey nods slowly. He almost lifts his hand to Dex’s shoulder but decides against it at the last moment. He can’t imagine what Dex is feeling right now. Grief, Nursey’s sure. An overwhelming mountain of sadness that he’d be a fool to climb alone. He’s probably overwhelmed.
“I need a minute,” Dex says.
He strides off before anyone can say anything else, but he doesn’t go toward the house. Instead he walks past it to the other side out of everyone’s view, to where he can see the ocean.
When he’s gone, Chowder turns to Nursey. “This house is huge,” he says.
“Way huge,” Farmer agrees quietly from beside him.
Nursey looks back to the home and nods in agreement. It’s giant. He didn’t expect it to be so big. It’s like, pretty old and maybe falling apart a lot, but it is also big. At least two stories, a big wraparound porch, balconies with the top floor rooms. All of that is drowning in chipped paint and broken shutters, boxes of trash rotted and overflowing, and a yard that Nursey’s convinced has never been properly maintained.
If Nursey tries hard enough, he can remove all of the clutter from his brain to see the beauty in front of him. Low-key it reminds him of the home from The Notebook, just slightly smaller and on the coast of Maine instead of one of the Carolinas.
It belongs to Dex now.
“It’s like—where do we start?” Chowder asks, still eyeing the beast in front of them.
Nursey’s not sure either. He’s never fixed up and renovated an old house before. None of them have. Even Dex, who’s great at building and fixing things, has never taken on a project this big. 3200 Maple Street might’ve been thriving one day but now it’s pretty much ruins.
“How old was Dex’s uncle again?” Farmer asks.
“50s, I think,” Nursey tells her.
“And he lived alone in this? It’s way too big for one person!”
Farmer falls quiet when Dex returns from the front of the home and his eyes look a little wet, but no one will say anything. His arms are folded over his chest like he’s been hugging himself. All three of them stand at attention, waiting for whatever’s next. No one’s super sure what they’ve gotten themselves into for the next couple of months but Nursey knows there’s no place he’d rather be.
“You want to come see the view?” Dex asks.
Dex’s Uncle Rick—the uncle he spent many summers lobster catching with—passed away suddenly and unexpected right before Dex could graduate. Nursey remembers the hours Dex spent prowling the Samwell Facebook groups trying to get the an extra ticket so his uncle could attend graduation, then only days after it was secured did Dex get the call.
Between finals and a funeral, Dex learned he’d also inherited his uncle’s home on the coast of Maine, as well as the old lobster boat. With this he’d received a letter from his Uncle Rick that, among other things, had humbly requested the house be restored to some of its former glory if at all possible.
Many of the Poindexters were pretty pissed. They tried contesting the will, and it’s still kind of a mess, but the house is Dex’s. His multitude of cousins and angry relatives can fuck right off.
Dex’s immediate family tried to get him to sell it, or at least sign it over to someone else. He was going to be a graduate, he couldn’t move to some remote town on the coast of Maine and fix up an old house. Nursey had never seen Dex so pissed. The eventual phone call had included so much shouting in the Haus Nursey could hear Dex in his room in the basement while Nursey was in his own upstairs.
And well, none of them had obligations immediately upon graduation. Chowder’s job starts mid August and Farmer has orientation sometime around then too. Nursey still has no idea what he wants to do and is pretending like he’s totally chill about it.
But because of this, it made sense for them to go up to Maine with Dex.
(Dex had to turn down an offer to deal with all of this. He maintains that it’s fine but Nursey can see right fucking through that.
“I can figure it out later,” Dex muttered when Nursey tried asking him about it.)
So here they are.
Barely college graduates. Very little to no expertise in fixing a house.
Nursey’s sure it will be fine.
Dex takes the room he slept in when he was a child, gives Nursey the one that was always for his brother, and then lets Farmer and Chowder have the guest bedroom because the space is the biggest and they’re going to be sharing.
His uncle’s room is off limits for now.
They spend the first day kind of surveying what they have. Dex goes around with those tiny colored dots and puts them on basically everything, saying very little but refusing to let anyone else help.
Even with ceilings that are impressively high, it’s very, very cluttered.
By the time Dex returns to them with more of a plan, it’s almost evening.
“You should sit for a little bit,” Nursey tells him. Dex sinks onto the couch beside him with with a sigh.
The room is quiet.
Chowder’s the first to speak. “We’re game for whatever it is you’re thinking.”
“I know,” Dex answers. “I’m just. Thinking.”
“Let us think with you,” Farmer offers.
Dex sighs again, lowing his head into his hands. “Everything with a green dot is staying,” he tells the floor, because that’s where he’s looking. “The orange is for things I’m not sure about—I’ll have to call my mom or something.“ Dex lifts his head and wow does he look tired. “Red is trash or donate. Use discretion.”
“What about red is donate or burn,” Farmer suggests. “There’s a huge fire pit out there! Let’s burn some stuff!”
That gets a smile out of Dex. “Maybe.”
Nursey wants to help in any way that he can. “Do you want us to start clearing some stuff out tonight?” he asks.
“Can we just… get beers and pizza and…” Dex trails off, but Nursey’s nodding at once. He can do that.
“Beers and pizza,” he says, already digging out his phone to look at what’s nearby. He can drive into the town they passed through—small but humming with life—and probably find something good. “Anything else?”
Dex looks like he’s going to say something else but at the last minute, shakes his head. “Nah.”
Nursey’s on his feet at once, walking and texting and winding through the big house to get to his car. He messages Chowder before pulling up directions to some nearby pizza joint.
press dex and see what else he wants
just like be casual abt it and i’ll grab it
Nursey’s car is new to him, but not super new. He got his license literally a month before he graduated because his mom hinted that maybe that was an important thing to get if he didn’t plan on moving back to New York City. Nursey hates driving, but it’s whatever. He does it as little as he can. And the car his family helped him with but it’s nothing fancy. It’s fuel efficient and blue and gets him from one place to another.
He makes it to The Pizza Castle in under ten minutes and there’s no line so he gets an order in right away. He’s only there waiting for a few minutes, browsing the beer selection in the weird freezer they have, when he gets another text.
HIS FAMILY MADE SMORES THEIR FIRST NIGHT EVERY TIME THEY CAME OUT
you are an excellent detective
Credit where credit is due, Cait is a hero
we been knew
Nursey asks the girl behind the counter if there’s a place he can get smores ingredients nearby and there’s a little market next door, so he heads over before his order is ready. He’s assuming it’ll take a long time to make five pizzas anyway.
When he gets back to the pizza joint he buys the beer and decides to strike up conversation with the cashier girl again.
“Are you a local?” Nursey asks.
Her name tag reads Meg. “Mm-hm, I work here year-round. You’re not.”
“What?” he asks. “A local? Am so.”
She smiles a little. “Oh yeah?”
“Just moved in,” he proudly announces.
“For the summer?” she presses. “Because then you’re still not really a local.”
He tells her about the house and the plan to clear it out and fix it up and how he just graduated college, all that jazz, but he mostly wants to know about the area. Dex’s uncle’s house is kind of secluded, not a lot of neighbors, but does have beach access and is a close enough walk to the dock. Even the town they’re in now feels small and isolated though Nursey was pretty sure he drove through somewhere with more people.
“There’s a bigger… well, we call it a city,” Meg tells him. “But it’s just a bigger beach town. Maybe ten minutes that way,” she says, pointing. “That has the shops and the restaurants most of the tourists. But if you’re more north you probably won’t run in to too many people. Portland’s maybe an hour fifteen with good traffic.”
“Where’s the closest, like,” Nursey thinks. “Lowes?”
“We’ve got a Home Depot nearby,” she says.
By then the pizzas are ready and Nursey heads out with a goodbye and a grin. He promises not to switch pizza joints because what could be better than The Pizza Castle, and within fifteen minutes he’s back with his friends with his mouth full.
Farmer creeps out after a few slices because, “When nature calls, you answer,” she hollers over her shoulder.
Nursey knows she’s actually just going outside to start the fire. Should they be concerned about her love of fire? No, right?
“Dad would order from Full Moon Pizza,” Dex says after finishing off another beer. “It’s a little farther away but it’s cheaper. And it is not this good.”
Nursey laughs. “I told the girl that The Pizza Castle would be our new pizza joint.”
“What if I wanted to try pizza from every nearby place?” Chowder asks. “I have to commit my loyalty so early? This is pizza, Nursey!”
“We can rotate,” Dex says easily. “Between every new sample of pizza we can return to Pizza Castle unless we find something better. Easy.”
“That’s so much pizza,” Nursey says.
“It’s not. There’s like, maybe five pizza places.”
“So that’s ten pizza orders?”
“Chowder and Farmer are here for at least two months,” Dex answers him. “That’s a reasonable assumption of the amount of times we’ll order pizza.”
“That’s disgusting,” Chowder exhales. “I love us.”
There’s a knocking on the door by the porch that scares all of them and they turn to see Farmer’s face pressed against the glass. “Get out here!” she shouts.
The sun sets on the opposite coast but the sky is full of some wicked colors. Nursey grabs another slice of pizza before pushing himself off of the floor and hurrying up. Dex takes the longest, confused, but when they get outside to the fire (which Farmer got started miraculously fast!) he pauses at once.
Farmer brought the supplies out earlier and tosses him the bag of marshmallows. “Welcome home, dude,” she says.
Dex doesn’t talk much the rest of the night but his smiles are soft and brilliant. Every time Nursey catches his eye Dex shakes his head a little, like he can’t believe they all followed him up here to fix up this old house.
After way too many smores, Dex insists they get to bed. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, he tells them. Chowder and Farmer hurry off to their room, which has its own bathroom, but Nursey and Dex are stuck taking turns as they get ready for bed.
They bump elbows as they brush their teeth in the same sink even though the bathroom has two and Nursey teases him about running into him in the hall at midnight, but then they’re on their own.
Nursey normally has trouble falling asleep in new places. But somehow this room reminds him of Dex and that’s comforting, and the sound of the waves on the shore just outside rock him to sleep.
When he wakes, it’s to the smell of coffee.
It drifts through the walls like it’s doing the waltz and Nursey smiles before his eyes are open. He knows that Dex made it. And Nursey knows he’s probably cooking breakfast too.
While Nursey’s known for how late he can sleep in, Farmer can definitely sleep later, so when he finally makes it to the kitchen he’s not surprised to find her absent. Chowder’s there though, sitting at the cramped kitchen table with a mug between his hands.
“Morning,” Nursey greets.
Dex is making pancakes and his eyes dart over just for a moment before focusing on the stovetop again. “I want to do the kitchen first,” he says. “Kitchen. Living room. So we have spaces to be.”
“Legit. I can have some of this?” Nursey asks, pointing to the coffee pot.
“No, Nurse,” he says, rolling his eyes. “We’re gonna dump that one in the ocean as a sacrifice to the Lobster God.”
Nursey’s grin feels like it belongs on his face.
“I’m drinking sacrifice coffee?” Chowder asks.
“Totally,” Nursey says. There are mugs lined out on the counter already and Nursey picks the one that’s shaped like a giant lobster. In honor of the Lobster God. “So if we ever go out on that boat, the lobsters are coming for you C.”
“I’d like to see them try.”
“Why did I know you’d pick that mug?” Dex asks as Nursey fills it up.
“Reminds me of you,” Nursey chirps. Dex rolls his eyes again and Nursey’s grin widens. “The more often you do that with your face the more likely you are to fuck it up.” He strides over to the tiny fridge, knowing it likely won’t be stocked but checking out of habit, and yanks open the door. “And I’d hate to see your pretty face all fucked up like, for forever.”
“If rolling my eyes fucked up m—”
“When did you buy all this creamer?” Nursey interrupts.
The fridge is stocked.
There are other things too. Eggs, milk, butter. Basics.
But five different creamers. Hazelnut, French vanilla, caramel, cafe mocha, and Irish cream.
“I ran out to the grocery store this morning,” Dex tells him.
Dex drinks his coffee black.
Nursey grabs the caramel because it looks like it’s already opened, it’s Chowder’s favorite so that’s probably what he used, and dumps a fuck ton into his mug without really paying any attention.
It’s not that Dex isn’t thoughtful. He is when he wants to be. It’s just that he does it in ways that Nursey is never expecting, like fixing the shelves in Nursey’s room after he offhandedly complained they weren’t level and his books kept tipping. Or picking up five flavors of creamer because he knows Nursey likes to have options when he very well could’ve just grabbed one for everyone to share.
“It’s not my fault you all sleep like rocks,” Dex adds as Nursey shuts the fridge. “Sugar’s on the table.”
“I’m wondering if we’ll be able to get through all five of those bottles,” Nursey muses as he sits, ignoring the funny way his heart is beginning to beat. Chowder doesn’t normally add sugar to his coffee so the package is still closed, and Nursey takes his time popping open the paper folds. “That will require us drinking a lot of coffee.”
“Derek,” Dex huffs. “You like your coffee at like, 70% creamer.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is,” Chowder whispers teasingly.
“You go through like an entire container in a week,” Dex adds.
Nursey’s jaw drops. “I do not!”
“As the one who went grocery shopping for the Haus most frequently, I can confidently say that yes you do.” Nursey spoons more sugar into his drink than he needs to. By the time he’s done mixing it, Dex is dropping a plate of pancakes between Nursey and Chowder. “We have a lot of work to do today so please fuel.”
“You didn’t need to say please,” Chowder tells him as he eyes the plate. “Are you making more?”
Dex scoffs. “Like this will hold us over. Of course I’m making more.”
Farmer wakes up before they’re finished, grabbing a mug of coffee for herself before settling down on Chowder’s lap as they literally do not have enough seats for everyone. The others are stacked full of mess.
Dex waits for Farmer to get mostly through her coffee before actually going over what he wants them to do for the day. He called a dumpster company so they’re going to bring out one of those stand up ones for the massive amount of trash that they’re going to have. He also picked up hella cardboard boxes for the things that they need to donate, and some plastic bins for the more sentimental stuff to store.
“I just want the kitchen and living room done today,” Dex tells them again. “As functionable as we can get them. Because we’re going to need space to exist in.”
“For sure,” Nursey agrees.
“My uncle,” Dex says slowly, “liked to hold on to things.”
“I know you probably don’t want to call him a hoarder,” Farmer says, “but like you can.”
“He might’ve been a hoarder. I’m kind of afraid of what we might find,” he admits.
There’s no pressure to get started right away so they sit around the table and talk for a bit. Farmer asks about some of Dex’s favorite memories here and he stumbles through a few without turning too red. Eventually Nursey grabs everyone’s sticky plates and takes them to the sink. The dishwasher works, Dex has informed them, but is currently filled with newspapers from the 90s, and Nursey doesn’t want to let the syrup sit too long so he cleans them before they set.
The four of them work very well together.
They start with Dex and Chowder in the living room and Nursey and Farmer in the kitchen, but they spend most of the day rotating. Sometimes it’s Nursey and Chowder, sometimes it’s Nursey and Dex, sometimes all four of them are in one room at once. When the dumpster people come and leave a giant container for them, they have a blast dragging all of the (toxic, non-flammable) trash out to it.
After heating up leftover pizza for lunch they get back to work, and by early evening they’ve decently cleared out four rooms instead of just the intended two. Farmer loves the screened in porch so she spent some extra time clearing zones out there, and there’s an office room that Dex mentioned he wanted functioning sooner rather than later so Nursey and Chowder kept darting in to clear out some of the bigger things when Dex wasn’t looking.
Most of their first week is like that. It’s a huge house and there is a lot of mess.
Chowder’s the first to find animals (mice) and Dex picks up a whole bunch of non-lethal mouse traps the next day. Farmer uncovers a whole slew of Poindexter family photos that they pour over one night and chirp Dex until he’s blushing but happy. Nursey does everything he can to make this easier for Dex, whether that be staying up later to get that extra bit of work done for the next day or putting away the memories that are too difficult for Dex to do on his own.
They move from room to room getting rid of the trash, letting Dex assess the damage and decide what needs to be fixed when they get to that stage, and get their work done.
It’s a strong, productive start to the summer. But it’s not all they do.
As newly graduated adults they spend half their time getting too drunk to properly hold a powertool to get any real work done, enjoying their summer on the beach instead of just focusing on the work they need to do. There are long stretches of tanning on the beach and a dozen books that Nursey easily gets through and the slow, easy unwinding of tension in Dex’s shoulder as every day the house grows a little cleaner and the lazy summer days grow a little longer.
He and Dex are out on the screened in porch one morning to take a break from Farmer’s very loud singing when Dex says, “I could live here.” It’s one of their favorite places to be, out on the porch. The breeze is always nice and the waves are enticing. They had it completely cleaned up out there by their second night, but Dex wants to replace a lot of the screens instead of just patch up the holes. Nursey takes a swig from the beer he’s already nursing and waits for Dex to elaborate. “Once it’s fixed up. Find work in the area. Freelance.” He shrugs. “I don’t want to sell it. You know? And it’s not like there’s a mortgage to pay anymore. Would still need money for upkeep and bills, obviously, but it’s all covered for a bit depending on how much we spend on fixing it up.”
Nursey imagines Dex living all the way out here on the coast of Maine like the hermit he’s always wanted to become, and his heart breaks a little. Far from family, farther from friends.
“Would you be happy?” Nursey asks.
Dex shrugs again. “I could be,” he says. “Sunrise every morning. I like the ocean. Etcetera.”
“You can’t just say etcetera,” Nursey says with a laugh. “You have to actually list the points.” It’s sunny today and because of that Dex’s smile feels brighter. “You’d get to be that elusive family member who just starts lobster catching full time.” That gets a real laugh out of Dex and Nursey feels warmer than he has all summer, even under the sun. “I could stay with you,” he says.
Dex’s smile slinks away in an instant. “Why?”
Nursey’s face burns but he’s quick. “Would you make me pay rent?”
Dex rolls his eyes a little. “You can’t hide out here forever, Nursey.”
“I’m not hiding. Are you telling me I can’t stay once this is all over? That you’d seriously want to be out here alone anyway?”
His tone is joking but it’s easier to ask this question like this as it is. Between grad school and finding a job and freelancing of his own and maybe moving home—Nursey has no idea what the fuck he wants to do. He’s just not great at making plans. He isn’t hiding.
But he does want to stay, if he can.
“I wouldn’t make you pay rent until you found a job,” Dex answers, and the smug little look on his face makes Nursey’s chest do wild things. Nursey nudges him with his elbow like he’s annoyed but his relief is instantaneous. He can’t be bothered to hold back his smile. But as it grows, Dex’s shrinks. “Don’t look at me like that,” Dex says, turning away from Nursey to fold his arms over his chest.
“Like staying here would solve all of your problems.”
Dex heads back inside before Nursey can respond.
That night, after Chowder has carried Farmer off to bed (Nursey’s convinced she was only pretending to be asleep in the last few minutes of the movie so she wouldn’t have to take the stairs herself), it’s just Nursey and Dex cleaning up the space.
They both fold blankets in a comfortable silence. The waves crash outside and the lights are low and Nursey keeps glancing at Dex out of the corner of his eye. He wants to say something but he doesn’t know how. He’s worried it’ll ruin this soft bubble that they’re in.
“You wouldn’t have to sell it,” Nursey finally settles with. “You could rent it. Airbnb, or something. The house I mean.”
Dex looks up at him, but only for a second. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I just don’t want you to think you’re stuck here.”
“What’s your plan?” Dex asks. He throws the newly folded blanket onto the couch and turns to look at Nursey, hands on his hips. “You asked about staying. Did you mean that?”
Nursey still has a blanket in his hands, thank God, so he takes his time folding it. “I don’t really have one,” Nursey admits. At all. Zero plan. “I’d like to stay while I figure it out—if you’ll have me.”
Dex doesn’t speak until Nursey sets the folded blanket down on the pile with the rest.
“I have to figure my shit out too.” He says it like he’s confident he’ll be able to do so. “But you can stay until you’re ready. Or I figure out what the fuck I’m gonna do with the place.”
“If you want to stay,” Nursey says, “I mean… I could look for work here.”
Nursey’s dream is to write. Which is difficult to survive on but maybe achievable. And he can write a book from anywhere. In the meantime, he really doesn’t care what he does. As long as it brings in money, as long as it isn’t entirely soul-sucking, Nursey would be happy to barista if that’s all that there is. He’ll make do with whatever until a more solid plan is forced to emerge.
To him it’s always been about the place. Being with people he cares about. He can build a life around that.
Dex is his person. Nursey can’t imagine life without him. Losing Chowder (and Farmer!) back to the west coast is going to be hard enough, but his actual d-man? Dex is his best friend. And not the kind of best friend you live halfway across the country from.
“Maybe,” Dex murmurs. “I don’t want to think about it right now.”
“For sure,” Nursey rushes. “I mean if you don’t want me here long term I can leave the same time as Chowder and Farmer.”
Dex rolls his eyes a little but that tiny smile is there, the one that makes Nursey’s chest do stupid things. “You’re ridiculous. I just told you we could figure it out.”
“So I’ll start looking for work,” Nursey decides. “All over. And if I get something somewhere else I’ll go. And if get something nearby and like it enough and you still want to go I can always… find a place, or something. You know?”
Dex looks up again. “Yeah?” Nursey nods. So does Dex. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Nursey echoes. Nursey’s not much of a planner but having this decided feels like a breath of fresh air.
Dex’s hands fall from his hips. “Well I’m gonna go to bed,” he says quickly, already moving toward the stairs.
“Should I draw up a lease?” Nursey calls as he goes.
“Ha ha,” Dex calls back.
Once Dex is gone Nursey tucks himself out on the porch to get some reading done before bed. But once he opens his book, none of the words are holding in his mind. He takes a deep breath of the night air and lets the sound of the waves wash over him.
He gets to stay.
They are hilariously bad at a lot of this.
Nursey uses the power washer on some of the shutters and literally splits one in half. Farmer attempts to throw everything into the burn pile, even toxic plastic things that are definitely Not Good for the environment. Even Chowder drops his fare share of fragile things.
But they’re surprisingly good at a lot of it too.
Once they get to the Fix Up The House bit of the summer, they take their time with it to make sure it’s right. At night Dex will decide what projects they’re going to work on the next day, and if it requires any elaborate learning then they’ll all crowd around a computer and watch some YouTube tutorial in hopes of getting it right. When they can’t do something themselves (Dex isn’t risking anyone who is not an electrician touching the electrical wires) they outsource to locals and work on what they can.
Farmer’s excellent at anything roof related, tiny and nimble and strong, though any time she climbs the ladder to get up there Chowder can be spotted internally freaking out from steps away. Nursey and Chowder can get a room prepped for painting and painted all in the same day without ruining anything inside. Dex has a fair share of magic in almost all areas, but that’s just because he’s a natural.
They find their strengths and they make it work and then they get to work, blasting classics from the 90s while they move. They divide the home into projects and go from there.
A week and a half in, Nursey arrives in the kitchen to find Farmer cooking instead of Dex, which has become commonplace at this point. Before he can even ask Farmer says, “Office.”
Nursey finds Dex hunched over his laptop in the office a few rooms down, frantically typing away. He’s updating his LinkedIn like if he doesn’t get it done in a certain amount of time the website will delete all of his data and he’ll never have had any real work experience.
“Dex?” Nursey asks.
“No work today,” he says.
Nursey leans a little closer. “This seems like work.”
Dex exhales a short breath. “I need to start doing freelance,” he says, tight. “I don’t want a gap on my resume.”
“Got it.” He reaches up and squeezes Dex’s shoulder before leaving the office and returning to the kitchen.
Nursey makes two cups of coffee, one for him and one for Dex, before finding his own laptop and joining Dex in the office. It’s still pretty cramped and cluttered in there, the only real seat is the one at the desk, but after setting Dex’s coffee near him Nursey makes himself comfortable in the window nook.
Nursey’s own LinkedIn is an absolute mess. He had to make one for his freshman seminar and would update it sporadically but he’s never put any real effort into it. He supposes that would be a good place to start. He can freelance too, though his projects would look vastly different than the kind of freelance Dex is muttering about.
They haven’t explored much so Chowder and Farmer decide to spend most of their day in town walking through the main shopping area, seeing as they already have their future’s a little more worked out.
They bring home pizza for early dinner from a place called You Guessed It We Have It, which is a little concerning when it comes to a name but their food is pretty good. Nursey finally makes Dex get off his computer and the four of them take a stroll down the beach, Chowder chasing Farmer into the waves a few steps ahead of them most of the time.
There’s something about Dex on the shore that Nursey isn’t used to. It’s not like they’ve seen a lot of the world together. But with the ocean behind him and the stars beginning to appear overhead, it makes Nursey a little dizzy.
“Thanks for sitting with me today,” Dex finally says.
Nursey smiles. “Course. I actually got some writing done.”
“Finally beginning your memoirs?” Dex teases.
“Yeah, I’m starting with that one summer me and a whole bunch of my best friends fixed up an old house.” Dex smiles too and it makes Nursey’s heart swell. “Just some fiction stuff,” he says after a bit. “Mostly for fun. But I felt productive.”
“Any job stuff?”
“Eh.” Nursey updated his resume but he’s good to coast for a bit longer from savings. He doesn’t want to seriously look into work until closer to when Chowder and Farmer are leaving. But job hunting takes so long that he should honestly start now, but somehow it still feels early. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Dex rolls his eyes a little but he’s still smiling. He redirects his attention to Chowder and Farmer in front of them, still hooting and hollering like two kids in love.
“Maybe I can like, renovate houses, or something,” Dex says.
“Not maybe. You can definitely do that, dude.”
Dex exhales. “But then what’s the point of my degree?”
Nursey nudges him. “You’ll figure it out,” he says gently. “We’ve got time.”
“I want it figured out now,” Dex mutters.
“I know you do.” The sun is nearly gone now, setting wonderfully behind the house. “Maybe I’ll wake up for the sunrise tomorrow,” Nursey says offhandedly. “I haven’t done it yet.”
Nursey frowns. “What do you mean you’re aware?”
“I’m always awake. You never are.” Nursey’s frown deepens. “It’s a nice sunrise though,” he adds. “I mean it’s different every morning, but yeah. You’d like it.”
“You watch the sunrise every morning?” Nursey asks.
“Every morning,” Dex confirms. “I’m awake anyway.”
There’s something achingly lonely about that, Nursey thinks. Dex waking up to watch the sky flood with color on his own. But it’s beautiful too. To soak in something like the sunrise with no one to face but the ocean.
“Chowder and Farmer have joined me a couple times,” he carries on when Nursey doesn’t say anything else. “Or one or the other.”
Nursey’s jaw drops a little. “You’ve never invited me!”
“I’ve never invited them either.”
Why had no one said anything? Nursey would like to be privy to sunrises with Dex!
“Well I’ll be there tomorrow,” Nursey says firmly.
Dex’s mouth tugs upwards but Nursey won’t call it a smile. “Okay.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Dex returns.
Nursey’s actually Very Awake when his alarm goes off in the morning.
It’s still gray outside and he’s convinced that Dex is bullshitting him about always being awake, so after tugging on something to keep warm Nursey heads out quickly.
Dex is waiting for him with a thermos of coffee.
He holds it up without looking to Nursey at all, his gaze cast out across the ocean, and Nursey easily sinks onto the ground next to him after grabbing it.
The sun hasn’t started to rise yet but the sky is clear and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore is comforting. It could rock Nursey back to sleep if he closed his eyes. Instead he unscrews the cap to the thermos and inhales deeply.
It’s loaded with creamer.
Nursey takes a long drink and it’s perfect. The best coffee he’s ever had in his life. It fills him with warmth and he looks over to Dex, trying not to let his smile overwhelm his face.
“What if I hadn’t come out?” Nursey asks.
“I knew you would.”
That makes Nursey smile more. “You’re sweet,” he says.
“Thoughtful?” Nursey amends. Dex finally looks over at him and Nursey decides that the sun doesn’t ever need to crest over the ocean. He can stay like this all day, looking at Dex in the half-light of the morning, absolutely content. “Thank you,” he says quietly.
His heart is doing this strange fluttering thing in his chest that he’s going to keep ignoring.
“Glad you came,” Dex says, looking back to the ocean. Nursey isn’t sure if he’s asking Nursey if he’s glad he came, or if Dex is saying he’s glad that Nursey came, so he just kind of hums in response.
“You’re out here every morning?”
“I don’t really sleep,” Dex admits. “Some days are easier than others, but.” Nursey glances over his shoulder at the house. It’s darker behind them, seeing as the sun hasn’t quite risen yet, and the home looms like a giant in the shadows. “Sometimes it’s like there are ghosts in that house,” he whispers.
“You’re allowed to grieve, Dex,” Nursey tells him. He hasn’t, really. At least not that Nursey’s seen. He went to the funeral and came back pale and that was that. Didn’t want to talk about it.
Dex blinks hard, nodding a little. “Yeah.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Nursey takes another drink from the thermos. He digs in his pocket for his phone, searching up something really quick, and then sets the thermos firmly in the sand so it won’t tip over once he finds what he’s looking for. With his phone in both hands, he clears his throat and reads.
“The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.
The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there;
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.
Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.
The earth has guilt, the earth has care,
Unquiet are its graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,
Beneath the dark blue waves.”
Once he’s finished he slips his phone back into his pocket. He reaches for the thermos and takes a long drink, letting the silence of the moment wash over them. Even the water seems to still.
“What is it?” Dex asks.
“The Ocean,” Nursey tells him. “By Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
Dex shifts closer. “Thanks,” he rasps. Nursey dares a look over at him and Dex is teary-eyed as the sun arrives above the horizon. “We should go out on the boat today.”
Dex nods. His voice is still soft when he adds, “I think it’d be nice.”
Nursey shifts the thermos to his opposite hand so he can reach out for Dex’s hand. He squeezes Dex’s fingertips, and when Dex doesn’t pull away he shifts so their hands slide together.
“I think so too,” Nursey murmurs.
The sunrise fills the sky with purples and pinks that seem impossible for a Thursday morning, more like a sunset. But then they shift into oranges and bleed into blues, and Dex never lets go of his hand.
Farmer’s the only other person that Dex lets drive the boat, but Nursey doesn’t even really mind. He hates driving. Boats are included in that.
It gives him more time to watch Dex.
Nursey thought Dex was in his element on the ice but this is different. This is Dex like Nursey’s never seen. With the water around him Dex is aglow. His eyes sparkle, full of wonder. Every step he takes is done with confidence. His grin is unrelenting, his laughter louder still.
It’s overwhelming in the best way.
It makes Nursey smile too; makes him feel like he’s had his sea legs his whole life.
Dex spends the morning teaching them how to catch lobster but says he thinks it’s still too early in the season for a good haul. He speaks from his experience, consulting his own stories for reference before finally just drifting into storytelling mode.
Under the open sky, Dex tells them everything. His first lobster catch. The time Davey pushed him in before he’d really learned how to swim. When he nearly crashed the boat into another because he hadn’t been paying enough attention.
Nursey aches to know more. He could listen to Dex talk until the sun disappeared beyond the horizon and they lost their boat to the darkness of the night.
When Dex starts talking about his Uncle Rick, they all listen in earnest. He was a quiet man but a kind one. Never one to start fights or hold grudges. Would always show up late with some sort of story that couldn’t be true but was so hilarious you had to forgive him anyway. He cared deeply about his family and always wanted to make them feel loved and supported.
Dex loved his Uncle Rick. Nursey knows that. And he knows Dex’s uncle loved him too.
But storytelling comes to an end, and though he doesn’t cry it does seem like Dex’s eyes are clearer once he’s done talking.
At some point Nursey sits in the seat by the controls of the boat and Dex appears at once, hands on Nursey’s shoulders. “Don’t even think about it,” he warns, but Nursey can hear him smiling. Still he glances back to see it, smiling too. “You’ll sink us.”
“You have no confidence in me,” Nursey teases. Dex readjusts his hands on Nursey’s shoulders and his thumbs press in near the base of his neck to work the muscle. Nursey looks back out across the ocean, hands away from the wheel, and sighs. “You love it out here,” he exhales.
Dex squeezes his shoulders again. “I do,” he whispers back.
Nursey crosses his hand over his chest so he can reach up and lightly grab Dex’s wrist. Dex pauses his massage when Nursey leans into him. “Thank you,” Nursey says. “For bringing us out here.”
Dex pulls his hands back and Nursey spins so he can look at him. Nursey expects him to look angry for a second, it used to be his default. But Dex is still soft with the light of the day.
“You’re my favorite people,” he says. “Why wouldn’t I bring you out here?”
Nursey rushes with warmth. “You’re my favorite too.”
Dex rolls his eyes, but his smile grows. “I meant the collective you, Nurse.”
But it’s more than just bringing them out here, it’s sharing his story with them. Dex isn’t a big sharer. Nursey’s sure he learned a lot about love from his kind and quiet uncle, which is why he is the way he is. So for Dex to open up to them means more than Nursey can put to words.
Dex shoos him out of the seat so he can drive them back but Nursey stays close. He lets Dex teach him everything about driving the boat knowing full well he will never actually get to do so and can’t even bring himself to care.
That night after their early dinner, Chowder and Farmer head into town for another date night. They had a light lunch (mostly snacks and beer) on the boat and Dex had left something in the crockpot for when they returned. It felt like forever that they were on the water but the sun is really only just starting to set and they’ve been back for what feels like a while now.
Nursey tucks himself in the comfortable seat on the screened in porch and grabs the book he’s been neglecting while Dex putters around on his laptop nearby, the two of them enjoying the silence together. It’s the perfect way to end the day.
Until Dex’s phone rings.
Nursey looks over with just enough time to see Dex worry. He moves to stand at once, rushing to the door without looking in Nursey’s direction.
He tries to pay attention to his book and makes it through a few pages, but the longer Dex is gone the more concerned Nursey grows. Just as he starts to worry maybe something’s happened to Chowder or Farmer he receives a Snapchat of a selfie from them on the pier nearby. Nursey sends one back of his book and glances through the window.
As much as he wants to stand and follow Dex, something keeps him seated. Dex will come back. His laptop’s still out here, open and in power saver mode already but certainly in need of retrieving.
But Nursey is thirsty. Maybe he could go grab something to drink and just kind of glance down the hallway in Dex’s direction—or wherever he’s gone—or, no. No! Dex’ll come back and if he wants to share what’s going on, he will. Besides, it’s probably nothing at all. Nursey has a habit of reading into things and his worry outweighs his sanity a lot of the time. So it’s likely not—
Dex returns, thank God, and Nursey exhales the breath he didn’t know he was holding in.
“Everything okay?” he asks.
“It was Davey,” Dex says slowly. He pushes the sliding glass door all the way closed but then lingers in the spot. “He said some of my cousins are still contesting the will.”
“You knew that,” Nursey reminds him as gently as he can.
“On the grounds that I’m gay,” Dex adds.
Nursey’s eyes widen. Dex came out to him and the rest of the team at the start of their senior year, but not all of his family has been as receptive. His own immediate family was being as supportive as they could but most of Dex’s extended family had not taken it well. His cousins using his sexuality against him makes Nursey immediately vibrate with rage. He snaps his book shut and shoves it aside.
“Are you serious?”
“I never told him,” Dex whispers, voice suddenly rough. “Uncle Rick,” he elaborates. “And I…” he inhales sharply and Nursey’s on his feet at once to stride across the room to him. “I think maybe if I had I’d never have this. I think maybe he’d have hated me.”
“Dex,” Nursey whispers back. “He gave you his house.”
“Yeah, this giant piece of decaying shit.”
“This giant, beautiful home that you love. And that he loved. And that he trusted you to restore and take care of. Not your dad, not Davey, not any of your cousins. You, dude.” Dex’s eyes are on the ceiling, filling with tears. He keeps blinking. He won’t look at Nursey. “He loved you, Dex.”
“But he might not’ve. If he’d known. And that’s what my cousins are saying,” he says, holding up his phone.
Nursey snatches the phone out of Dex’s hand and tosses it onto the porch couch near Dex’s laptop, out of reach. “Well fuck them! They’re wrong!” Dex strides away from Nursey, closer to the screen to look out at the beach.
“I don’t know if they are,” he says tiredly. “That’s the thing.” He looks back to Nursey. “I don’t know what Rick would’ve said. And I’ll never know because I was too coward to tell him when he was alive. So maybe they’re not wrong.”
He knows that family and politics and queerness can be difficult, but from everything that he’s learned about Dex’s uncle, that man loved Dex. Completely. Gay or not.
“Well then it doesn’t matter,” Nursey tries.
“It does,” Dex rasps. “I’m a fucking coward.”
“You’re not a coward,” Nursey responds.
“I am,” he insists, looking back to the water. “And I’ll end up like him,” Dex says, voice suddenly fast and frantic. “Alone, no family. No one to love.”
He doesn’t understand the leap but he doesn’t have to. Dex is wrong. He’s widely cared for, and so was his uncle. “You have a family,” Nursey reminds him. “And plenty of people to love.”
His voice shakes when he says, “You know what I mean, Derek.” Dex lifts his hands to cover his face before sliding them into his hair and tugging hard. It still isn’t really clear to Nursey what Dex is thinking about when he says, “I’m never gonna have that.”
“You’ll find someone,” Nursey whispers. He really believes that. Just because Dex’s uncle died without every marrying doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been happy, or experienced great loves. “Everyone’s got baggage, Dex, that doesn’t mean you’re broken.”
“I feel broken,” Dex whispers back. “And if I feel like this about myself how is anyone else supposed to feel differently?”
Like this, Nursey thinks.
Something changes after that day, but it’s subtle.
When Chowder and Farmer slink off to bed, Dex and Nursey stay up later together. Sometimes they watch something on Netflix, sometimes they drift to the porch and listen to the waves, sometimes one of them falls asleep and the other has to gently nudge them awake.
Some mornings Dex will make Nursey’s cup of coffee for him, too. It’s always perfect, if not only because Dex has made it.
And maybe Nursey’s making it up in his head, but sometimes there are looks that linger that weren’t there before. He sees that soft and small smile from Dex so many times he loses count. And when they settle in on the couch and their hands end up brushing, neither of them pull away. Sometimes Nursey considers lacing their fingers together.
Nursey can’t dare let himself think it means anything.
But he wants it to.
Nursey isn’t sure he can pinpoint the exact moment when things changed for him personally, but all he knows is now he can’t stop looking at Dex’s lips and wondering what it would be like to kiss him.
Dex is likely not having these thoughts. Nursey is really only just admitting to himself that he is having these thoughts.
The truth is these feelings have been a long time coming and Nursey knows it. What he has with Dex is different than what he has with anyone else and not just because Dex is one of his best friends. There have always been moments that made Nursey pause, moments that he’d convinced himself were flickers in the grand scheme of things.
But they weren’t. They’ve just been leading him here.
It’s never felt like this before, taking up more space in his chest with every breath. The longer he sits with it the more important it feels, the more pressing.
One morning Nursey wakes up and hears a voice that does not belong to any of the three people that Nursey regularly speaks with.
He climbs out of bed and hurries downstairs, mostly still asleep, and stumbles into the kitchen to find a man he doesn’t recognize sitting at his spot in the kitchen nook by the window.
“Hey,” the guy greets.
“Hey,” Nursey answers.
“Chad,” he says.
Nursey frowns, more confused and immediately more suspicious than a moment ago. “Okay.”
“Where are your pants?” Dex asks.
For a moment Nursey thinks he’s not wearing anything, but thankfully he has boxers on. He looks up and scans until he finds Dex leaning back at the counter with a mug between his hands. Nursey shifts his body a little to be less incriminating.
“I am in my own home,” Nursey responds.
“You must be Derek,” Chad says.
“What’s with the Chad?”
“I work at the Home Depot that Will’s always coming to,” Chad says.
Dex shrugs. “He didn’t play lacrosse,” he reasons.
Nursey concedes. He runs back upstairs to put on real clothes and when he returns Chad is gone but Farmer and Chowder have appeared. ”What’s with the Chad?” Nursey asks again.
Dex strides toward Nursey to hand him a mug of coffee, already mixed. “He works at the Home Depot that I go to,” he says, repeating what Chad had said. “We’re friends.”
“He’s cute,” Farmer says. Nursey frowns as he sips.
“No,” Dex returns. “I mean—well, yeah. But he’s straight. And it’s not like that.” Dex shrugs a little, leaning back against the counter again. “I mean. I’m going to be living here for the foreseeable future. I should… make friends?”
“You?” Nursey scoffs, flustered at the idea of permanency. “You can’t make friends.”
Dex goes on to explain that Chad dropped off the order of paint that Dex made so they can repaint the outside of the house. Dex goes in so often everyone’s been wondering what the house looks like and Dex told Chad he could swing by once the order came in to see it firsthand.
“Unfortunate name,” Chowder muses.
“But he is cute,” Farmer says again.
The four of them spend the next few days figuring out the mechanics of painting the outside of the home. They take turns using the power washer to clean the tiles and then slowly work their way around the house with scrapers. Dex wants to do it right so they go through the whole bit of it. Sanding, caulking. Nursey just does what he’s told and is happy to see Dex smile.
At the end of the week when the house is freshly painted, Nursey’s exhausted in a good way. His muscles ache because the work they did was hard and it’s a big house, but it looks beautiful.
Fresh and clean, like a new start.
All four of them here have a particular rhythm Nursey doesn’t want to disturb. And Dex is very particular about, well, everything. Just because Nursey’s had this revelation doesn’t mean Dex feels any differently.
So he treads carefully.
But he also finds himself doing things he’d never have done before. Like going out of his way to prepare dinner on days he knows Dex is a little more stressed. Or letting himself get caught gazing at Dex. Or saying stupidly romantic things that he actually means.
But it doesn’t really change too much.
Or well. Nursey is trying to convince himself that things haven’t changed. But sometimes it gets a little harder. Like when Nursey gets in from his nap on the porch and finds an old hard covered book on his bed.
“Hey,” Nursey calls into the house. “Did someone leave a book on my bed or is this place seriously haunted?”
“Uh, that was me,” Dex calls from his room. His voice is muffled, maybe like he’s digging through his closet, and Nursey strides down the hall to stick his head in. “I was in town today,” Dex says, actually digging through his closet. “And I remembered you said you needed something new, so.”
Nursey lingers in the doorway just looking at him. When Dex finally turns to look at him, Nursey drops his gaze quickly to the book in his hands.
“I asked the girl in the store for something including the ocean,” Dex adds. “So it’s her rec more than anything.” It’s an older book, something Nursey hasn’t heard of. And in the end it doesn’t matter what it is, Nursey’ll read it.
“Thank you,” he exhales.
Dex waves him off. “It’s whatever.”
Nursey holds the book to his chest and nods. “Yeah,” he rasps. It’s whatever. But it’s not whatever. Dex pulls out a sweater and slips it over his shoulders and that too is something Nursey hasn’t seen before. “You get that in town too?”
Dex turns so he can look at himself in the mirror. “It was my uncle’s,” he says.
“You went in your uncle’s room?” Nursey asks.
“I should take it off,” Dex rushes.
“No,” Nursey stops him, hurrying into the room. “It looks good, Will.”
“It was always my favorite of his.” The sweater is worn and loved, a collection of deep blues with some lighter oranges mixed in, all laid out in vertical stripes. Nothing he’d ever expect Dex to wear but something that looks great on him. “It’s kind of ugly.”
“I love it. He’d want you to have it.”
In the mirror, Dex’s eyes find Nursey’s, but only for a moment. “Thanks.” He hesitates before turning to look Nursey straight-on. “Can you help me?” he asks.
“With the room?” Nursey asks, and Dex nods. “Of course.”
“I was in there yesterday but…”
“Of course,” Nursey says again. “What do you need me to do?”
Dex winds his arms around himself like he’s trying to hug himself and Nursey wants to hold him more than anything. He explains the layout of the room to Nursey and what he wants done—clothes in boxes, photographs put away. It’s almost like he wants Nursey to do it himself. Which he will if that’s what Dex wants.
But then Dex asks if he’s ready now and they walk there together.
Nursey’s never been in Uncle Rick’s room.
It’s the master of the house and it has these two double doors that open into it. He expects it to be cluttered and dirty like the rest of the home was, but once they walk in he’s surprised at how open and organized everything already is. There’s a giant balcony and Dex moves to open those doors at once, letting fresh air flood the room. It’s still a little warm so he ends up taking off the sweater, but Nursey watches to make sure he doesn’t put it back.
It’s a beautiful space. Lived in but not cramped.
Neither of them speak much but they work together in efficient silence. There’s one spot on the floor that they have to avoid because Dex says the boards are really weak, but it’s out of the way enough that it’s not an issue. After an hour the place feels more fresh and clean than when they first got there and Dex announces that it’s good enough for now.
Once he shuts the balcony doors Dex ushers Nursey out of the room and closes the bedroom doors as well, then he rushes to his own room without a word. Nursey considers not following him so Dex can have some of the space he needs but his feet carry him after Dex anyway. When he gets there Dex is sitting on the edge of his bed, eyebrows furrowed, and Nursey slowly steps into the room after him.
He doesn’t know what to say.
He hasn’t lost a lot of people in his life. Two of his grandparents have passed away but Nursey was too young to understand what it meant. Other than that, he’s never even been to a funeral before.
When he sits beside Dex on the mattress, it squeaks under his weight.
“I don’t know how to stop feeling like this,” Dex rasps.
“Then just feel it,” Nursey urges. Dex squeezes his eyes shut and Nursey shifts closer.
“It just fucking—sucks! It sucks, it’s like—” he looks up at Nursey, desperate. “It’s like I keep expecting him to just walk down the hallway. Or wake me up early to go out on the boat.” Dex’s eyes are wet and he reaches up quickly to swat at his eyes. “And I know he’s gone and the stages of grief are like whatever the fuck they are I’m out of denial I just feel so—” Nursey can’t help the small smile that finds his face. “It’s not funny,” Dex snaps.
“It’s not,” Nursey rushes, reaching out to rest his hand on Dex’s shoulder. “I know it’s not. It’s just of course you would try and put logic to grief.”
“There’s a logical path to take.”
“So where are you then?” Nursey asks. His hand eases down Dex shoulder before Nursey grabs Dex’s hand. “Anger? Bargaining?”
“I want to be in acceptance.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Nursey says gently. Dex’s eyebrows pull together and Nursey squeezes his hand. “Sometimes the only thing that can fix us is letting time pass,” he tells Dex. “And that’s shit, because you want to be able to do it yourself, but you have to go through every day anyway and hope it hurts a little less.” Dex shakes his head and refuses to look to Nursey. “Will, this is gonna be hard,” Nursey whispers.
“I know,” he rasps. “I know but I’m—so fucking over it.” He drops his forehead on Nursey’s shoulder and lets out another shuddering breath. “I miss him,” he tells Nursey.
Nursey nods. “I know.” Neither of them move. “Can I do anything?”
“You’re here,” Dex answers with a voice so soft the ocean could drown it on even its calmest days. “That’s enough.”
you never sleep either tho huh
You could try counting sheep sometimes that helps me
You could turn your blue light filter on
they do that auto for us now
you wanna go on a walk?
Dex is wearing his uncle’s sweater when they meet on the back porch a few minutes later. It’s well past midnight and Nursey could hear Farmer snoring from down the hall, so he can only assume Chowder’s asleep too.
Looking at Dex in the moonlight he doesn’t mind that it’s just the two of them. His skin looks silver, his hundreds of freckles that have bloomed under the summer sun hidden in the glow. A few days ago they all celebrated the 4th of July by making a huge fire to represent the nation and they had gone through Dex’s uncle’s room a couple of days before that.
Beneath their feet the sand is cold. The waves crash on, loud and relentless, forward and back. They don’t walk too far, they don’t say much.
“It’s crazy,” Dex says at one point, kind of bouncing on his toes.
“What is?” Nursey wonders.
“That we can just…” he turns, gesturing to their footprints behind them, to their house in the distance. “Do this.”
“What do you mean?” Nursey asks.
“Walk barefoot on the beach this late,” Dex says. He turns back to him. “Like—of course we can. But we can do… anything. Literally anything we want, whenever we want.”
It’s almost like magic, Nursey thinks. Something that makes him itch with a need to create, with a need to watch something grow into something beautiful. A feeling that can’t be defined but a good and hopeful one. Anything we want, whenever we want. Seeing Dex bounce with it makes him feel it more.
Nursey nods. “Yeah.” No more classes to pass, no more hockey games to play. Nothing to tether them and no one to guide them. “What do you want to do?” he asks.
It’s a clear night and the moon above them lights their way. Even the waves fall quiet for Dex to answer, “I don’t know.”
“Me neither.” Nursey nudges him and they start back toward the house.
When they return the house is quiet, even Farmer’s snoring has stopped, and Nursey’s worried one false step will have a floorboard screeching. In the hallway, they both linger.
“Get some sleep,” Dex says with a nod.
“G’night. Dream of sheep.”
Dex exhales a laugh as he slips into his room and closes his door behind him. In his own bed, Nursey’s asleep moments after he’s under the covers.
A few days pass and Nursey wakes up in a cold sweat, thinking about the future that he doesn’t have.
It’s been a while since he’s been hit with anxiety like this and it keeps him rooted to his bed, buried under the covers even in the warm afternoon sun. When Chowder finds him there closer to 11 in the morning, Nursey refuses to move.
“I’m never going to get a job,” Nursey mutters from under his blankets. “I have hardly any work experience and I don’t even know what I want to do and nothing is going to work out.”
“You’re gonna get a job,” Chowder tells him. “You just have to stick with it. Something’ll turn up.”
“Maybe,” Nursey agrees. “Or,” he throws the blanket away down from his mouth so he can grump, “because I have no skills or real work history, I am unemployable! I don’t even know what the fuck I want to do how am I supposed to find a job for that!”
Dex appears a few minutes later. “Nurse?”
He pulls his blanket over his head and turns away from his friends even though they’ve both joined him on his bed. “What happens when I have no money and no future? I’ll have to move back in with my parents.”
“I thought you were going to live here?” Chowder wonders.
Nursey groans. “Dex doesn’t want me here.”
“Shut up, Nursey,” Dex says. “Do you need me to bring you your laptop?” Dex asks. “When’s the last time you looked at Idealist?”
“Those jobs are too good for me,” Nursey whines. “None of those people will want me so why should I waste my time applying?”
“I’m getting your laptop,” Dex grumbles, stalking off to grab it.
Chowder gives him a light pep-talk while Dex retrieves his computer and then all three of them spend their morning in Nursey’s bed. Chowder hasn’t heard anything from his job yet which means he can browse Twitter all day but his memes keep Dex and Nursey going in their job hunt.
It feels less awful to do this with his people around him. His heart does this most obnoxious somersault when he sees that Dex has sent him a job listening he thinks Nursey would be good for through Facebook earlier in the afternoon and sends back two dozen heart emojis which makes Dex elbow him from his spot beside him.
By the afternoon he feels less like the world is going to end if he gets out of bed.
A couple of days later Nursey’s meditating (trying not to fall asleep) over his cup of coffee when Chowder appears dressed in hiking boots and easy to move in clothes.
Dex frowns. “Um?” he asks.
“Cait and I are gonna go climb a mountain and scream,” Chowder answers.
Nursey frowns too. “Is that a new sex thing?”
Chowder snaps his fingers and points in Nursey’s direction as though he’s giving him an answer, but he doesn’t actually say anything. “Life is weird and we need to freak out a little. Probably be back late,” he adds. “Or tomorrow.”
Farmer appears a second later. “Hope it’s okay we didn’t invite you guys?” she asks.
“No, Cait,” Nursey drags. “We expect to be invited to every single couple outing you two go on. Haven’t you learned?”
“Maybe if you two found partners we could go on group dates,” she returns pointedly, but she’s smiling. Nursey’s eyes dart over to Dex, but he’s returned to cooking. “Make good choices while we’re gone?”
Dex smirks. “Me? Always. Nursey? Less likely.”
“I hope life is less weird later,” Nursey offers as they head for the door.
“Thanks,” Farmer returns.
Dex waits until he hears the front door shut before turning to Nursey. “You think they’re okay?” he asks.
Nursey (who has mostly already fallen asleep over his mug) startles a little. “Yeah.” He forces his eyes open as he takes a big drink. “Sometimes you just gotta climb a mountain and scream.”
“It’s gotta be a sex thing,” Dex finally agrees. Nursey laughs. “I want to do the floor in my uncle’s room today,” Dex says a little bit later.
They’ve redone some of the hardwood in some other places, and it’s not Nursey’s favorite thing to do, but the floors in the master are super weak. He noticed it when he and Dex were up there cleaning the other day. Not just the section that Dex has kept them from, but all of them.
“Do you think we can finish it?” Nursey asks. “Just us?”
“If we’re efficient.”
They’re maybe an hour into working when Nursey takes a step and literally falls through the fucking floor.
The sound of the cracking wood is almost comical and the oof Nursey makes as he falls forward feels scripted. It would be hilarious, really, if one rusty nail didn’t totally decimate his ankle. He doesn’t know the order in which things happen but one moment he’s got one foot through the hardwood and he’s collapsed kind of onto his knee and both of his elbows and the next he’s stumbling down the stairs using Dex as a crutch because he can’t feel his foot really at all and then somehow he’s in the passenger seat of Dex’s car with a towel poorly wrapped around his leg that he’s already starting to bleed through.
“Talk to me, Derek,” Dex rushes, and there’s a lot of panic in his voice that makes Nursey more afraid than he wants to be. “How bad does it hurt?”
“Not really,” he lies.
“That’s not what I—” Dex huffs, sparing him a quick glance before looking back to the road. “Of course I let you get injured. For fuck’s sake.”
“Will, I’m fine,” Nursey insists. “Accidents happen.”
“Maybe we should’ve worked slower,” he murmurs. “Or I could’ve done it myself, I knew the boards in there were weak.”
“Will,” Nursey repeats.
“What’s your blood type?” Dex responds.
“So if you pass out I can tell the doctor,” Dex grits.
“You think I know my blood type?” Nursey asks, managing another laugh. “Don’t you know it by now? Isn’t that one of those d-men things you’re supposed to know?” Dex’s frown deepens. “I could guess.”
“That’s not how blood types work,” Dex mutters.
“Feels like it might be… O? Aren’t a lot of people O?”
“Have you gotten your tetanus shot?” he pushes, but Nursey really doesn’t know. And he’s starting to get tired.
But they make it to the place soon enough, and once they see the bloody towel that Nursey’s holding to his leg they hurry him back to a room at once. It’s a really bloody towel. Like, all of that came out of him? What the fuck?
They get to work on him pretty quickly and that’s when Nursey understands that this is kind of serious. Dex is always nearby, his hand on Nursey’s shoulder when possible.
Nursey needs stitches and has to get another tetanus shot to be safe. He lost a fair amount of blood, but he’s going to be fine. The doctor tells him to rest and in a week or so he’ll have to return to get the stitches out, but it’s definitely not as bad as it could’ve been in regards to someone falling through the floor and cutting a giant gash in their leg.
The car ride back is silent.
Once they’re parked Nursey whispers, “I’m sorry I ruined our day.”
Dex exhales. “You didn’t ruin our day. You got hurt.”
“I’m still sorry. I know you wanted to finish the floor.”
Dex huffs and turns to face him, but Nursey keeps his gaze forward. “So I’ll work on it tomorrow,” Dex tells him.
Still not looking Nursey says, “I can help.”
“No.” Nursey’s eyebrows pull together in frustration. He wants to protest, but he’s tired in a way he wasn’t expecting. And even more sad, all of a sudden. It’s like something’s sitting on his chest. “I want you resting,” Dex says again. Nursey reaches for the handle of the car when Dex stops him, grabbing his arm before he can leave the car. “The doctor said you should.”
“I’m an idiot,” Nursey returns with as much anger as he can muster. “I get it.”
“Yes,” Dex tosses back. “You’re an idiot because you’re overreacting. Derek, look at me.” Nursey fights the burning in his eyes and turns to look at him. “The floors were shit. It’s why we’re redoing them. You stepped in a weak spot and fell because I didn’t make sure it was safe enough and that’s all. Now I want you resting.”
“You think I’m useless,” Nursey rasps.
Dex hardens. “Don’t even fucking start,” he snaps. Nursey drops his gaze again, fighting tears. “Let’s just go inside, okay?”
Nursey forces his way out of the car and limps his way to the house in a huff in response. He goes straight through to the screened in porch and is more than relieved when he sees the book he was reading earlier still sitting out there. He’s only a few pages in when Dex appears in the doorway, looking regretful.
“I ordered pizza,” he says. “A new place in town. They won’t deliver here so I have to go get it.”
He hesitates. “Do you want to come with me?”
“You wanted me to rest,” Nursey returns. He looks back to his book and scans words he knows he’s read before.
Dex nods. “Yeah. Do you want anything special? I can pick up—”
“It’s fine, Dex,” Nursey interrupts. “I’m just gonna read. Can you go?” Dex sighs but soon enough Nursey hears the sliding glass door shut.
He doesn’t really cry once Dex is gone but a few tears slide down his cheeks anyway. He wipes them away and considers calling home but knows both of his parents will hear in his voice that something’s wrong which will really make him cry, so he texts instead to let them know he loves them. Eventually he returns to his book and it’s a good enough distraction until Dex gets back.
He brings the pizza boxes right to the porch and sets one in Nursey’s lap.
“We didn’t really eat today,” Dex says quietly. “I get snappy when I’m hungry. And you get sad.”
Nursey feels his eyes well up. “No I don’t.”
“Please eat the pizza, Derek.”
With food in his body, Nursey starts to feel more like himself. The veil of sadness from the day lifts a lot more than he expects it to. Now he mostly feels like an idiot. With half the pizza gone Nursey sets his box aside and turns to Dex who appears to have been waiting for him to be addressed the whole time.
“I don’t think you’re useless,” Dex says before Nursey can say anything at all. “If you want me to wait until you’re okay to do the floors so you can help, I’ll wait. I would just rather do it by myself than risk you getting hurt again.” His mouth curves up into a tiny smile and he turns, digging through the paper bag that the pizza place gave him with the order, before passing Nursey some napkins. “Use this.”
Nursey grabs a napkin and wipes his mouth with a frown. “Just say you hate me and go,” he mutters.
“Yeah Derek,” Dex says, allowing himself a smile. “I hate you. Shut up.” Nursey shakes his head and sighs. “I’m glad you’re okay, you know.”
“Just gonna have this ugly ass scar on my leg to remind me what an idiot I am for the rest of my life,” Nursey grumbles back. Who the fuck falls through the floor?
Dex sets his own pizza box aside and grabs some napkins to wipe his hands before crossing to Nursey’s side. He’s propped his leg up but it’s about time to change the bandages, so Dex carefully unwinds the wrapping.
“Scars are hot,” Dex says once the stitches are out in the open.
Nursey couldn’t stop his laugh even if he tried. “You think so?” Dex grins at him and Nursey lets his smile linger. He forces himself to look back to the box of pizza. “Chowder’ll be mad we got a new place without him.”
“Well it wasn’t great,” Dex waves him off, “so honestly we did him a favor.”
Nursey sinks backwards on the couch. “Messy day,” he murmurs.
“I know. I almost killed my favorite person. And then he blamed himself.” Nursey kicks at Dex with his leg and then they share another smile. He kind of forgot that at the beginning of all of this, Dex had been the one immediately taking the blame. “How’re you feeling?”
“Tired,” Nursey admits.
“Well you should get to sleep then. Regenerate blood, or whatever.” It’s still early, the sun is only just starting to set, still Nursey nods. “Can I do anything for you?”
Nursey hums. “You could stay with me tonight,” Nursey offers as casually as he can. Mostly joking, but partly serious. Today was long in ways he isn’t used to and he wants someone in his space. Dex looks up at him but his face remains neutral. “Bed’s big enough to share,” he teases to make light.
“I have my own bed,” Dex says. “And you’re fine. You said so yourself.”
Nursey’s smile slips. “Yeah.”
They’re both quiet for a moment before Dex asks, “Nursey?”
“I don’t know,” he murmurs, shaking his head. “I’m just feeling a little weird. Long day.”
Nursey thinks for a second. “Lonely isn’t right,” he tries to explain, but there aren’t any other words either. It feels more tired than anything. An ache in the pit of his stomach. Again he shakes his head. “You really don’t need to stay with me,” Nursey tells him.
Dex waits a moment before saying, “Everyone was always on top of each other in the Haus.” Elbows knocking elbows, friends on one another’s laps, everyone dogpiled onto someone’s bed. Dex knows exactly how Nursey’s feeling. “Sometimes it’s like…” he trails off and Nursey looks back to him, waiting. “Like there’s too much space here?”
“Yeah,” Nursey agrees. “Like that.”
Dex stays with him that night.
It’s not a big deal, Nursey thinks, again and again and again. Nursey was hurt and lonely and Dex feels kind of guilty and it doesn’t mean anything. But when Dex appears in Nursey’s doorway in some old training shorts and and old t-shirt, Nursey feels like he’s going to burn from blushing.
“You leave so many fucking lights on,” Dex grumps as he enters, flicking off the lightswitch by the door, and Nursey can only laugh in response. He scoots over on the bed to make room and then Dex climbs in, setting his phone on the bedside table. “We’re trying to cut down on electricity, remember?”
“I’ll help pay the bill,” Nursey murmurs.
Nursey likes the sound of the waves and his bedroom is on the side with the ocean so he keeps his window open at night. “Should I shut the window?” he asks, keeping his voice soft.
“No, I leave mine open too.”
Nursey readjusts on his side so he can look at Dex and finds that Dex is laying on his back, staring up at the ceiling. “Do you still talk to Chad?” Nursey asks.
Dex snorts. “From Home Depot?”
“Yeah, sometimes,” Dex tells him, turning to look Nursey’s way. “I’d call us friends. He invited me to his girlfriend’s barbeque last time I was in the store.”
Dex smiles, a little mischievous. “I couldn’t tell you until after it was over. You’d have wanted to go.”
Dex’s smile shifts into a full on grin. “It would’ve been so bad, Derek. Chad’s cool but I don’t know if he’s that cool.”
“Well you’ll never know until you go to his girlfriend’s cool ass barbeques.”
Dex laughs, shaking his head a little and turning to look back at the ceiling. “Next time,” he promises.
“What if Chad is super cool,” Nursey wonders. “And has really cool friends. And you meet them and you’re done with us.”
Even from this angle Nursey can tell Dex rolls his eyes. “Yeah, Nurse,” he says, but it’s almost gentle. “Why were you thinking about Chad?”
Nursey’s chest tightens with a heat that makes him nauseous, one that only burns when he feels inferior. “Chad probably wouldn’t have fallen through the floor.”
Dex exhales, soft. “I’m really glad you’re okay,” he whispers. It makes Nursey's chest tighten again, in a pulse that leaves him breathless. “It could’ve been really bad, Nursey.”
“I know,” Nursey whispers back.
Nursey doesn’t want to talk about Chad. Or think about Chad. He’s happy Dex is finding more people here—Nursey should do the same. But today was one of the longest days Nursey’s had in a while and he doesn’t want to spend this moment comparing himself to someone he doesn’t even know.
He just wants to be here, with Dex. Whispering like they’re not the only two home.
Eventually Dex asks, “Do you think Chris and Cait are okay?”
”Yeah,” Nursey answers.
Dex looks at Nursey when he asks, “Do you think he’s proposing?”
Nursey laughs, surprised. “No! You don’t think he’d tell us?”
“Well I don’t know,” Dex mutters, looking away again. “They have their lives figured out. Why do they need to climb mountains and scream.”
Nursey nudges Dex’s leg under the blankets. “You’re such a grump.” Dex looks back to him and Nursey smiles again. “Life is fucking weird and hard, dude.”
“No, I know.” He exhales sharply. “I just feel like they have their shit together so much more than me.”
“It’s not a competition.”
“I know,” Dex murmurs again.
“Maybe they’re not spiraling at all,” Nursey says. “Maybe they just wanted to do something fun.”
“Yeah.” Dex is quiet for a little bit before asking, “Do you think they’ll get married, though? Actually?”
“I hope so.” With both of them staying quiet, the dark has settled over them like another blanket. “I call Best Man.”
“He’ll give it to Bitty,” Dex teases. But in the same breath he reaches out, and Nursey holds his breath when Dex’s fingers brush over his skin.
“C’mere,” Nursey exhales, and Dex edges closer just a touch. It’s warmer like this. Dex closes his eyes but keeps near. Nursey wants to live in this moment. “I don’t care who’s Best Man,” he whispers, closing his eyes as well.
“I want to be Farmer’s Man of Honor, or whatever they’re called,” Dex says, and Nursey compromises with his laughter so he only grins instead. He’s trying to keep this moment as soft as he can. “She’d pick me over you.”
“She’ll pick her sister over both of us,” Nursey reminds him.
Nursey laughs anyway, soft and more breathy than anything else.
Silence returns and Nursey’s nearly asleep when the house creaks and they hear Chowder and Farmer get in. He eases his eyes open just a bit and finds Dex easing his eyes open as well. He looks annoyed which only serves to makes Nursey smile.
And then they share a look that Nursey wants to hold in his heart. Dex softens himself, the corners of his mouth tugging up just a bit as his eyes flutter shut again. Then he sighs before shifting closer to Nursey on the bed.
“Night Derek,” Dex hums.
Nursey doesn’t trust himself to speak.
In the morning, Nursey wakes to a soft knock on his door.
He sits up in a rush half expecting it to be Chowder, half terrified that Dex will flip out, when he realizes that Dex isn’t even there. He’s not even that surprised, really. Dex is a sunrise kind of guy.
“Yeah?” Nursey rasps.
Farmer’s on the other side with a mug of coffee. “How’re you feeling?” she asks. Nursey can’t help but look for her hand and smile a little when there’s no ring there. “Dex told us what happened! Why didn’t you two call?”
Nursey reaches for the mug as he rubs at his eyes. “We didn’t want you to worry,” he answers. “I’m fine.”
Nursey extracts his leg from the blankets so Farmer can look at it. Together they take off the dressing and clean it out so it can breathe. She asks Nursey about their day while they examine the mess and Nursey asks to see photos of the mountain that they climbed.
“Will thought maybe Chris was proposing,” Nursey tells Farmer as they page through the pictures on her phone.
“Oh, he did,” Farmer tells him, leaning back.
Nursey arches an eyebrow. “Oh did he?”
“Chris asks me to marry him all the time,” Farmer says with a smile. “Walking on the beach or half-asleep in bed or…” she holds up her phone, shaking it a little. “Climbing mountains.”
Nursey’s own smile grows. “That’s so cute. What do you say?”
“Depends on my mood,” she teases.
“Yes,” she answers.
Nursey’s heart soars. He can’t think of anything that he wants more than something like that.
They have to take it easy while Nursey’s ankle heals. Dex doesn’t want anyone else helping with the floors in his uncle’s room after the incident anyway so he spends his time on that. Farmer gets some summer reading finished for her classes while Nursey pretends to get some writing done. Chowder has some online training to do before his job actually starts.
At night all four of them binge a bundle of new Netflix shows. They’ll share snacks and drink their way through bottles of wine and Nursey learns to stop seeing his injury like something that’s ruined all of this.
Walking is a pain but he when he can’t make the effort to get little things like cups of water or his book in the other room, his friends are quick to get things for him. More often than not Nursey’ll wake up and there will already be a mug of coffee by his bed, and he won’t mention it to Dex because Dex hasn’t mentioned it to him but he knows the house isn’t that haunted.
One night when Chowder and Farmer go out to get the pizza, Dex and Nursey find themselves tucked into the couch waiting for them to get back. They’re nearly finished Stranger Things and Dex has more thoughts about it than Nursey does so he’s just listening to Dex ramble.
“Do you even care?” Dex asks at one point.
“Of course I do.”
“So do you agree or disagree?”
Nursey makes some sort of offhanded noise, reaching out and grabbing Dex’s hand. “I don’t… remember what we talking about,” he admits. Sometimes he just likes the cadence of Dex’s voice. Dex makes a disgruntled noise himself and Nursey laces their fingers together, squeezing. “Is this still about Stranger Things?”
“No! That was like, two conversations ago!”
Nursey’s laughing as they hear Chowder and Farmer return and he feels Dex shift a little beside him.
“You want this back?” Dex asks, holding up their laced fingers.
“Not really,” Nursey admits. “Do you want me to take it back?”
Dex readjusts how they’re holding hands, but only just a little. Enough to make them both more comfortable with the position.
And it’s not a big deal at all but Nursey’s sure his heart is going to hammer out of his chest. He brushes his thumb over Dex’s and thinks, just for a moment, about how much easier this is than he thought it was going to be.
Terrifying, falling for his best friend, but surprisingly easy too.
it’s 1am why are u awake
what do you want
Your typing is soooo loud Nurse.
it is not that loud!!!
Okay fine but you keep laughing to yourself
And that is keeping me awake
you are welcome for the joy
Dex appears in Nursey’s doorway five minutes later, disheveled and sleepy, and Nursey tips his laptop mostly closed so he can look at him. Somehow seeing Dex like this always makes Nursey feel deliriously happy and now that he’s not looking at his screen his eyes throb with a need to be closed.
There’s a tug on Dex’s mouth like he’s trying not to smile. “Go to sleep,” he says.
“I can’t,” Nursey tells him. “Creative high.”
Dex finally smiles then, softer than Nursey thinks he’s allowed. “Well then at least stop laughing to yourself.”
“I can’t,” Nursey says again. “You’ve met me. I’m hilarious.”
Dex ducks his head, shaking it a little. His eyes dart to Nursey’s computer. “What’re you writing?” he asks. Nursey presses his lips into a thin line. “Is it a secret?”
Nursey wiggles his head a little as he tries to decide what he wants to tell Dex. In the end he settles with the truth. “So maybe I actually started writing memoirs.”
Dex eases into Nursey’s room like he’s been invited. “Oh?” He moves to sit on the edge of Nursey’s mattress but Nursey shifts, making room for Dex beside him. “So what are you working on?”
“I’m writing about that time Bitty caught Tango scooping jam out of the jar with his finger,” Nursey tells him, actually closing his laptop. He sets it on the side table closest to him and turns to face Dex, propping himself up on his elbow. “It’s like.” He always thinks maybe Dex thinks he’s stupid when he talks. Nursey feels like he’s so much better in writing and a mess of a human when forced to speak. Too casual, too uninvolved. But Dex waits for him so Nursey collects his thoughts. “Have things ever happened to you and then from that moment you kind of saw life a little differently?”
Dex eases down on the bed a little. “Sure.” The only light left on in the room now that Nursey’s laptop is put away is the small lamp on the bedside table next to Dex. The way they’re sitting casts Dex with shadows but still Nursey feels his eyes on him. “Tango eating jam with his finger was one of those moments for you?”
“Not really.” It’s harder to have it make sense when he speaks. “But I’d figured out some other stuff recently and none of it really clicked into place until then I just…” he trails off, remembering back. “I can see it unfolding scene by scene. Bitty was so mad.” Dex chuckles, low, and it makes Nursey smile. “And I just remember this feeling… and it was…” Dex props himself up on his elbow too. “It was loose,” Nursey tells him. Like a laugh that had escaped without warning. “And free and clear and I want people to feel what I felt when they read it.”
“I’m sure they will. You’re very talented,” Dex whispers back. “Will you let me read it?”
Nursey feels a bit of that moment here, now. “Maybe once I’ve finished,” he tells him, knowing full well the answer is yes. Now that he’s actually put his laptop away it’ll be a lot easier to go to bed. “You sleeping in here?”
Dex sits up quickly, his smile fading bit by bit. “Nah, I should…” he gestures over his shoulder and Nursey nods. He sinks down into his bed while Dex moves to stand. “You want me to get the light?” he asks, already reaching for the lamp.
“Thanks,” Nursey murmurs.
Dex lingers in the doorway on his way out. “Did I crush your creative high?” he asks.
Nursey hums, already sleepier than he’d realized. “Never do.”
Nursey’s always loved the aesthetic of storms.
Purple skies with flashes of lightning. A booming that you could feel in your chest. There’s something raw and wild about a thunderstorm, but with that is also something horrifying.Waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of thunder was not something he enjoys.
So in theory, storms are great. But this storm that he’s in he wants to end quickly.
The house is old and rattles in the wind and it’s rained here before but never like this. Nursey had closed his window forever ago, even going as far to pull the curtain over it which he never does, trying to avoid the reality of the storm. Even with headphones he can’t drown it out and in time it only seems to get worse.
Eventually he pushes himself out of his bed and creeps down the hallway. He stands in Dex’s doorway a moment, just watching him. Dex is awake and looking out his own open window, stretched out on his bed like he’s enjoying it.
“Hey,” Nursey exhales, sharp. Dex lazily turns to look at him, eyes slowly dragging from the window. “I’m not a fan of…” he gestures widely. “Storms?”
“I checked the radar,” Dex tells him. “Should pass soon. But yeah, it’s pretty brutal right now.” He pushes himself to sit up and then starts for the door. “Let’s go downstairs.”
Nursey’s heart kicks into overdrive. “Why?” he asks. His ankle isn’t nearly as bad but he still kind of wobbles down the hall after him. “Do you think we should hunker down, or whatever?” Nursey follows him through the house and hesitates when Dex heads for the porch. “Dex,” he murmurs.
“It’s screened in,” he says.
“I don’t think that makes it safe?”
Dex heads out on the porch anyway. Lightning continues to strike outside, streak after streak streaming across the sky while thunder rattles the foundation. Nursey’s only there for a moment before Farmer shows up.
“Hey!” she greets. “Chris is still asleep.”
Thunder claps like a tambourine and startles Nursey where he stands. “How!” She rests her hand on his lower back and waits for him to speak. “It’s scary,” he murmurs. “Shouldn’t we like, prepare or something?”
“It’ll pass soon,” Dex shouts in from the porch where he’s been sitting. He ducks his head in and waves them out. “Come out here!”
Farmer pushes Nursey forward a step and after a deep breath Nursey takes it. He ends up on the couch squished between Farmer and Dex, watching the lightning dance across the sky. The wind is warm and Nursey’s heart is nervous and Dex grabs his hand like he isn’t even thinking about it.
Between his friends it’s easier to see the beauty.
Eventually the lightning takes a pause, flickering every now and again instead of constantly filling the sky, and the thunder drums on steady but softer than before. Nursey finds that he’s sunken down in the couch, shifted with his forehead pressed to Dex’s shoulder.
He realizes he’s almost asleep when Farmer pushes herself from the couch. “Night guys,” she whispers, slipping back inside.
Nursey sits up and pulls back, tugging his hand out of Dex’s. “What time is it?” he rasps.
“You should sleep,” Dex tells him. Nursey blinks a few times before a smile spreads slowly across his face. “What?” Dex mutters.
Nursey shakes his head. There’s something about After Hours Dex that Nursey’s grown to love. The messy push of his hair, the soft cadence of his voice.
“You still surprise me,” Nursey finally answers.
Dex shakes his head too. “Why?” he asks. “Because I like thunderstorms?”
Because he’s more than just the man that everyone thinks him to be. Because Dex is quietly kind and stupidly brave. Because even when Nursey feels like an idiot and Dex has the opportunity to rub it in, Dex chooses the option that makes Nursey feel safe and secure.
Across the ocean, thunder rumbles in agreement.
But Nursey says, “Yeah.” He stands slowly and stretches just enough that he’ll be able to make it back upstairs without feeling his muscles tighten. “You get some sleep too, yeah?”
“Night, Derek,” Dex murmurs.
“At least try?” Nursey pushes. Dex purses his lips but doesn’t respond. “G’night, Will.”
The day after Nursey gets his stitches out and the doctor says he’s in the clear, they spend most of the morning drinking.
It’s one of those really great days where it’s not too hot and the wind isn’t too cold but there’s still a breeze so the air doesn’t feel stale and Nursey’s the happiest he’s been in a long time. Like, in general, these past weeks with his best friends have made him insanely happy. But today he can really feel it, like if someone had crushed the feeling of friendship into a powder that he’s already snorted and is just thriving off of the beating of his heart.
Some moments you just have to sit in and soak up what they are. Nursey is incredibly grateful that he gets to have this one.
Farmer and Dex have spent most of the afternoon playing beach volleyball while Chowder’s sat beside Nursey to work on his tan. Nursey’s just breathing it all in. Every now and then he’ll jump in and try and play volleyball (Dex can’t really hold his own against Farmer though he’s trying) but it’s way harder than it looks, especially with the sand, so mostly it’s Nursey sliding awkwardly and Dex worrying that he’s going to fuck up his ankle again, and Chowder laughing while Farmer shows all of them up.
Sometimes he’ll walk to the water and let the waves lap at his ankles.
They order from a new place for dinner and Dex offers to drive in and grab it while the three of them settle in to watch the sunset. Dex returns in time for the sky to burst into flames, reds and oranges licking every inch of the sky above them.
When the sun drifts away and the warm starts to fade, the four of them are still out there talking. They’ve had enough beer that the buzz can hold off the cold for a bit even though Farmer still wants to build a fire, but Dex promises her they’ll do it later this week.
“We’re leaving so soon,” Farmer mutters, gesturing to Chowder. “How many more bonfires do I get to build?”
“It’s not that soon,” Nursey argues.
“At least four,” Chowder says.
“Five,” she counters.
“Four,” Dex returns. “Your bonfires are huge Cait, I don’t know if we have enough stuff for that many.”
“Well how about I just build as many as there are supplies for then,” Farmer offers.
Dex shakes his head. “No. You’ll just build a massive one. I know how your brain works. It has to be rationed appropriately.”
“And we’ll want to leave a little something for them once we leave, babe,” Chowder tells his girlfriend, smiling fondly. “No?”
“No,” Farmer says.
Chowder laughs. “I love you,” he tells her.
Farmer lights up like she’s never heard him say it before. She looks over to him and smiles in a way that says it back. It makes Nursey’s entire chest burn and he can’t help but look to Dex, finding him wearing a soft smile of his own. As though he knows he’s looking Dex turns to Nursey, golden eyes shining bright.
“So help me build bigger and better fires,” Farmer finally responds, but Dex is still looking at Nursey, smiling like the two of them are sharing a secret even Nursey is too afraid to whisper.
Chowder waggles his eyebrows. “We can keep warm other ways.”
“Christopher Chow,” she reprimands with a laugh. Finally Dex looks away and Nursey forces himself to as well, only in time to see Chowder and Farmer actually make their way to their feet. “We’ll take the trash,” she offers, grabbing the pizza boxes.
“Oh, go,” Dex says, shooing them with his hands. “You aren’t fooling anyone.”
Chowder laughs, “That’s why we’re helping with the trash!”
They leave a six pack behind before running into the house together, leaving Dex and Nursey out on the beach alone. Dex leans back across the sand to grab a beer and tosses it to Nursey who uses his shirt to twist off the cap.
“They’re like,” Nursey pauses so he can take a drink from his bottle. “Grossly in love.”
“I know,” Dex agrees. He opens a bottle of his own and takes a long swig. “Sometimes you see people who are trying really hard to make it work even when it doesn’t but I really think they’ve found it.”
“Yeah.” He glances over his shoulder to the house that they’ve just run off to. “When do they leave?”
“A few weeks,” Dex tells him. Nursey’s been trying not to think about the end of all of this. He feels okay skirting through things right now but once Chowder and Farmer leaves he really has to start getting things together. “They’re going back to Samwell and Cait’s gonna leave her car with her sister and then they’re driving Chowder’s over to the Bay.”
“Right,” Nursey says with a nod. He takes another drink from his beer. “Let’s not talk about that.”
They switch topics to something else, mostly listening to the waves and looking up at the stars while Nursey tries to ignore the budding ache in his chest. Even when the chill makes Nursey want another layer, he holds his ground. Both because Chowder and Farmer should be able to have the house to themselves for a bit but also because he could spend all night under the open sky with Dex. Together they drink their way through the beers, letting the minutes drag on.
“I know some of the constellations,” Dex eventually says as casually as one person can. Nursey lights up with a smile, looking up at him and waiting for more of the story. “Want to know how?”
“Is it Boy Scouts?” Nursey asks.
Dex laughs, dropping his head down into a slow nod. “Yes.” Nursey laughs too before turning back to look at the sky. “Davey thought it was so stupid but I thought the stars were so cool.”
“That is so cute,” Nursey tells him, still grinning. “I can see it. Little William Poindexter, all dressed up in his little hat with his little star map.” Dex nudges him with his elbow, laughing again. “Which ones can we see?” Nursey asks.
Dex looks up to the sky, scanning, and Nursey turns to watch him. He feels drunk but not from drinking. This whole day has been a special brand of joy. And Dex is so beautiful and so wonderful and fuck it, Nursey likes him so much.
“So that’s Ursa Major,” Dex says, extending his hand. It takes him a beat to actually look away from Dex himself. “The Big Dipper.” Dex explains the shape and Nursey nods when he spots it. “So…” he shifts his hand across the sky. “That’s the Little Dipper. You can see them year round.” His hand falls back to his side but Nursey’s eyes stay in the sky.
“Do you know any summer ones specifically?”
Dex shifts so he can kind of look behind him, then squints into the darkness like he’s trying to read the last line in a vision test. “I think that’s Scorpius,” he says, lifting his hand again. “And that… might be Hercules?”
“But I’m not sure,” Dex says, turning to look at him. “I’d need to check my app.”
They both left their phones inside but it’s not like it matters. With the waves crashing at their feet and the universe open above them, Nursey has never felt like this before in his life and knows he never will again. Some feelings are saved for moments like this.
“I know some constellations too,” Nursey says.
Dex puckers his lips in amusement. “Oh?”
“Mm-hm.” Nursey looks up at the stars. “That’s the Wizard Snail,” Nursey says, pointing to the sky. Dex snorts beside him. “You just see that bright star there and then it kind of spirals out?”
“You can’t just make constellations up.”
“I’m not making it up,” Nursey responds. Even as he says it he knows his smile shows he’s full of it and Dex already has his eyebrows arched preparing for the bullshit. “There was an ancient civilization that lived off the coast of Maine,” Nursey carries on. “I read about when we went to that museum in town.”
“Right,” Dex says, not buying it for a second.
“It’s an old constellation only few remember,” Nursey adds. He loves making up stories on the spot and it’s easier to do with a few drinks in him. “Created to honor the all powerful…” he gestures back to Dex.
“Wizard Snail,” Dex fills in slowly. “You…” he trails off, his grin growing on his face. “Are so…”
“So…?” Nursey echoes, grinning as well.
Nursey leans over to push him and then they’re both laughing, hands nudging against one another’s shoulders, chests. “You have so little faith in me,” Nursey teases and Dex just shakes his head, smile still bright. “I bet if we had your phone we could check that app and then you’d know the truth.”
“Oh, uh-huh,” Dex agrees dramatically. “So tomorrow we can check.”
“It’s a one night only constellation,” Nursey says breezily. “In honor of the night the battle was won due to the power of the Wizard Snail.” Dex laughs loudly in response and Nursey wants to kiss him. The urge bursts in his chest like a firework and burns him inside out. Dex’s laughter used to be a rarity and even now that he’s loosened up so much it still feels like a treat to hear. “I like it when you laugh,” Nursey says, unthinking.
It startles Dex into silence. But it only lasts for a moment before Dex leans in and kisses him. It’s more of a crash than anything, like the waves on the shore, and Nursey almost pulls away in shock. But then Dex’s hand lifts to cradle his cheek, soft like the sand on a morning before the sun can burn it. Nursey reaches out himself, arms around Dex’s waist, and tugs him closer. Dex settles in like he’s content to do this for awhile and Nursey swallows an appreciative groan because he could do this for the rest of his life.
They’ve never done this before.
Nursey’s gotten drunk and made out with Holster and Shitty and Ransom and Whiskey and Bully and Tango but never Dex.
And he isn’t even really drunk. They’ve been drinking but nothing heavy, even if they didn’t eat a lot for dinner. He might be buzzed. But he thinks that’s more from the overwhelming feeling of this happening than anything else.
And Dex can kiss. Nursey’s sure that this isn’t just because he’s stupidly in love with his best friend, Dex is good at this. Hand cupping Nursey’s cheek, tongue gently coaxing Nursey’s mouth open, a fire that reminds Nursey of Dex but it’s softer than he’d expected, contained and intentional. All of it is simultaneously too much and not enough.
Nursey leans up and in to it, trying to make his body closer to Dex’s. One of his arms flies backwards to give him the support to sit and the other winds around Dex desperate to hold on. His eyes peel open for a moment and yes, this is happening, and Nursey’s chest twinkles like the night sky. He wants to laugh because there’s a relief in it.
Dex is kissing him.
Dex reels back and demands, “What?”
“What?” Nursey echoes.
“Stop smiling,” Dex chastises him, but he can’t, and Dex is smiling too.
They’re looking at each other for a moment before Nursey moves to kiss him again. This is better in a million ways which is amazing because it was already incredible. Nursey feels like he’s falling or drowning or gasping and he’s never loved a feeling more in his entire life. But they’re only kissing for a moment when Dex pulls back, eyebrows a little furrowed.
Nursey cups his cheek. “Will?”
But still he pauses, hand firm against Nursey’s chest to stop him from leaning in again. Then they’re just breathing, so heavy they move from the weight of it. Dex jerks his head back like he’s listening, and then just as quickly rolls off of Nursey and back to the side. Nursey turns, confused, when he picks up the cadence of Chowder’s voice slowly carrying closer.
“...and I said there was no way you two were still out here!”
Dex sits up and reaches backwards for his beer. “Welcome back Chowder,” he shouts back.
Nursey cannot move.
Chowder’s far away and it’s dark so there’s like, probably no way he saw anything. But Nursey has whiplash and his mouth is burning.
“But she was right,” Chowder says, closer now. Nursey stays frozen. “And it’s been awhile since it was just us Frogs, huh?” Chowder plops down, right between Nursey and Dex with two sweatshirts, one for each of them. “I miss us.”
Nursey forces out a laugh. “Yeah,” he manages. “Farmer’s sleeping?”
“I know how to please my woman, Derek,” Chowder chirps. Dex tugs his sweatshirt on while Nursey grips his in his hands. “What are you two gonna do out here without us?” he carries on, none the wiser. “Hopefully not kill each other.”
“Hopefully not,” Nursey agrees.
Chowder eases off of both of them slowly. “Did I like, interrupt something?” he asks. “I’m feeling weird vibes.”
“No,” Nursey hurries.
“Just tired,” Dex says. He reaches up, digging the heel of his hand into one of his eyes. “And cold. I’m think I’m actually gonna get to sleep, but thanks for the sweatshirt. More Frog time later.”
“For sure,” Chowder tells him.
They say their goodnights and Nursey watches Dex for as long as he can—but there’s no look. No sly smile. Just a goodnight to the both of them and then he’s gone.
What the hell was that? After finally tugging on the sweatshirt Chowder brought out to him Nursey scans the beach until he sees where he set his beer from earlier and leans over to grab it, hoping it will settle something in him. But it doesn’t, and now he’s starting to spiral.
“C,” Nursey whispers.
How Chowder hears him over the waves Nursey will never know. “Yeah?”
“I like Dex.”
Chowder turns to look at him, eyebrows slowly pulling together. “Do you not like me and Cait anymore?” he asks.
“No. I like Dex.”
Chowder gasps. “Oh! Oh my God.” Nursey drops his head into his hands. “Oh my God, Nursey, like—you—”
“Like I wanna be with him,” Nursey cuts him off. “Legitimately.”
“Oh my God.”
Nursey tugs his roots. “What do I do?” he rasps. “Do I tell him?”
Chowder flails across the sand until he’s at Nursey’s side. “Yes!” He has one hand on Nursey’s shoulder and the other kind of near his knee. “Nursey, yes, you have to tell him!” Nursey curls further into himself and Chowder pulls away, enough to give him space but still close that Nursey can feel his body heat beside him. “I totally interrupted something didn’t I?” he asks. “Were you gonna say something?”
“No,” Nursey rasps. “I mean—I wasn’t going to say anything, but—”
“I did interrupt something?” When Nursey doesn’t answer, Chowder makes some sort of strangled but happy noise. “Please elaborate on the something, Derek!”
With a deep breath Nursey slides his hands from his face and peels back so he can look at his friend. “I’ve never done this before,” he says, sounding half-mad. “Everyone I’ve ever been with were acquaintances that became dates, or—or kegster hookups that turned into another thing, but never… fuck!”
This is real.
This is so fucking real, he’s told Chowder! This can’t be just some made up shit in his brain anymore. He’s voiced it to a whole other person!
He likes Dex. Nursey wants to be with Dex.
It’s no longer a thought that lives solely in his head but a want that he has put into words and shared with another person.
“I can’t tell him,” Nursey says, that uneasiness in his stomach again. “We just made out and he walked away like it was nothing.”
Chowder tries very hard to not visibly react and fails terribly. “I’m sorry,” he squeaks out. “You were making out when I got here?”
“And then he walked away like it was nothing,” Nursey repeats.
“That doesn’t mean it was nothing, Nursey, oh my God are you kidding?” Chowder lifts his hands to his face and takes a deep breath. “Derek,” he says slowly. Nursey takes a deep breath. “You do this thing a lot. Where.” Chowder pauses. Like he’s thinking about his words. “You do this thing where you never let yourself let the good things that happen to you be good things.”
Nursey starts shaking his head at once. He’s heard this dozens of times before. “No I don’t.”
“Yes you do,” Chowder insists. “Anytime something good happens to you, like say you get published. Right? Or you do something really great on the ice. Instead of celebrating it you always play it off like none of it matters.”
Nursey folds his arms over his chest, still shaking his head a little. “It’s not the same,” he tries to explain. How he feels about Dex isn’t the same thing as accidentally pulling off a hat trick and feeling unsure about all of the praise, or when one of his own least favorite pieces gets an award and he can’t shake the idea that all of the work he likes better is actually worse. “Dex is too important to me to not overthink this.”
Chowder sighs. “I know it’s easier said than done but you literally just told me that you and Dex were kissing. How can that not be a good sign?”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe the dark of the night has made him more afraid, the alcohol has made him sad. Maybe he’s reading into Dex walking away so quickly.
“I’m afraid,” Nursey rasps.
“Of what?” Chowder asks gently.
“Everything,” he answers weakly. “Rejection. Losing him. Completely messing everything up? Take your pick.” Chowder rests his hand on Nursey’s shoulder and Nursey wants to crumble. “I know you’re right,” he carries on. “I know I have to tell him. But fuck, Chris. Like.”
“Fuck,” Chowder agrees.
Nursey drops his head into his hands and tugs at his roots. How is it possible to go from one beautiful moment to another that has him so full of dread? Nursey knows the only way to sort this out is to talk about it but talking about it is really fucking hard.
“Thank you,” Nursey finally murmurs. “I feel… so confused all the time, C.” He pulls back to look at his friend. “Do you see it? Anything between us?”
“Yes,” Chowder answers at once.
Nursey blinks. “You do?”
“I kind of thought maybe you were already dating but just really secretly,” Chowder admits.
“Are you fucking with me?”
Chowder laughs. “No! But I figured if it was important one of you would tell me eventually.” To hear Chowder say that he sees something between Nursey and Dex though allows Nursey to step outside of the dark box he’s created for himself regarding tonight. “Should I not have said that? It’s—”
“No,” Nursey stops him. “Just weird to hear. I don’t know.” Nursey’s smile returns unexpectedly and he tries to fight it but he can’t. Chowder pokes him, waggling his eyebrows, and Nursey’s smile grows. “It’s weird!”
Chowder shakes his head, his smile soft. “It’s great,” he counters gently.
The two of them shift so Chowder can lean his forehead against Nursey’s shoulder. They sit like that for a long time and listen to the ocean. Nursey wants the waves to tell him what to do. There’s a knowledge here, vast and untapped. “What if the timing’s not right?” Nursey asks after a while.
“Time’s not real anyway,” Chowder tells him.
“Fuck, that’s so true.”
“Timing wasn’t great for me and Cait,” Chowder admits. He pulls back so Nursey can turn and look at him. “She’d just gotten out of something after graduating high school and they’d been pretty intense. And I had that guy at home that was stringing me along.”
“I remember,” Nursey says with a nod.
“So Cait had other feelings and I had other feelings but when we were together, it was like those other feelings weren’t even relevant. Like who cared that some guy was leading me on when Cait was right here and so wonderful, you know?”
Nursey loves his friends so deeply.
“So maybe it wasn’t the best time for us to start something, but one night out late talking by the lake I just asked if I could kiss her and…” Chowder trails off with a smile. “Here we are.”
Nursey didn’t know that. “You just asked her if you could kiss her.”
“Mm-hm. And she said yes.”
“And then you two grossly made out for the rest of eternity.”
Chowder grins. “Uh-huh.” He nudges Nursey a little. “And you’ve already kissed him so like, one terrifying thing already out of the way.” Chowder laughs again, shaking his head. “You kissed Dex, dude.”
“It was so good, C,” Nursey groans. He drops his head into his hands. “Like—fuck.”
“Imagine doing more of that, whenever you want,” Chowder prompts.
Chowder chuckles when Nursey answers with, “Not helpful.”
Eventually Chowder stands and offers his hand to Nursey who accepts it without words. The house is quiet when they get back in and they tip their heads at each other without actually saying goodnight.
In bed, Nursey drags his thumb over his bottom lip and remembers what Dex tastes like.
Nursey wakes up to the sound of Dex’s drill.
He groans. He didn’t drink enough water before passing out last night and his head is throbbing and it’s early. Why is Dex already drilling things? He reaches for his phone to check his notifications before he decides he needs coffee and rolls out of bed.
Nursey passes the room that Dex is working in on his way to the kitchen and hesitates. At the last moment he sighs and turns back, knocking on the doorframe to get Dex’s attention.
“You need help?” Nursey asks sleepily.
Without even looking toward him Dex answers, “Not really.”
Nursey lingers, waiting for Dex to turn around. “Yeah, okay.” There are words in the base of his throat that he can’t bring to fruition. He wants to ask about last night. But he remains immobile, unspeaking.
He should say something. Now. While he has the nerve and Chowder’s push of encouragement.
Dex finally glances over his shoulder at him. “What?” he asks, and he sounds annoyed.
“Dex,” Nursey starts. But he knows he can’t hope for a turn in this conversation. “Last night,” he tries again. Dex looks back to where he’s drilling but doesn’t lift his drill. Nursey wants to be honest but at the last second he offers, “We were drinking?”
Dex doesn’t even look back to him. “Yeah,” he agrees.
Nursey finally figures out what it is Dex is doing—he’s hanging family photos.
In a rush, Nursey remembers that Dex is grieving.
He’s been grieving this whole time. And it’s hard when Chowder and Farmer are all over each other and there’s no one else here—those things can get twisted together easily. Nursey can find a million reasons as to why last night happened once and will never happen again, subtle flirting between them these last few weeks or not.
He gets it. Even if he doesn’t like it. But it’s always been like this for him—never actually wanted, just a filler. It’s not as easy to swallow as it has been in the past.
“Should we talk about it more?” Nursey wonders. I want to, he thinks. Nursey has a lot of things that he wants to say. “We can.”
“Why?” Dex shoots back.
So, no. It’s fine.
“Okay,” Nursey concedes. That’s it. Don’t talk about it. “Did you make coffee?” Nursey asks.
“In the pot,” Dex tells him.
He gets back to work and Nursey drags himself to the kitchen where the pot of coffee is still warm. It’s cloudy this morning but Nursey settles himself in at the nook in the kitchen and stares out across the ocean anyway.
He considers taking a day for himself and blaming the hangover, but Dex would see through that. Nursey’ll power through. He can’t sit with the sadness of it—he knew it was too good to be true.
Farmer strolls in while Nursey’s sipping and takes the spot on the nook next to him. She rests her head against his shoulder, almost like she knows that it’s what he needs, and lets out a sigh that could blow away all of the clouds in just one breath.
“You okay?” Nursey asks.
“It’s gonna be weird,” she answers. “When this is over.”
Nursey takes a drink from his mug so she can’t see him blink away his sudden tears. “Yeah,” he eventually agrees. “It is.”
Dex spends most of the day hanging up photos throughout the house. Nursey keeps himself busy reading, wanting to lose himself in the pages of a book instead of focus on the ache that’s growing in his chest.
He volunteers to pick up dinner that night - time for another trip to The Pizza Castle - simply because he needs to get out of the house without it looking like he needs to get out of the house. It doesn’t matter that they just had pizza yesterday, Nursey can order some of the non-pizza things.
On his way into the shop he hears someone call, “Hey!” Nursey pauses and finds his favorite worker Meg on her way out. “Been a while.”
“Hey,” Nursey greets with a smile. He’s never seen her on the other side of the counter and she’s shorter than he expects. “My friends and I are trying to sample every pizza place nearby.”
“Oh that’s right.” She glances over her shoulder to look at the shop. “I just got off. Are you picking up?”
“Haven’t ordered yet.”
“You know we have a phone number you can call ahead of time,” Meg tells him. “That way when you get here you can just take the pizza and leave.”
“I’m trying to stay out of the house as long as I can,” he explains.
She smiles a little. “Yeah okay. I’ve got a backwoods in my car if you’re interested.”
“Pot?” Nursey clarifies.
That’s how he ends up smoking weed sitting shotgun in Meg’s car while he waits for his pizza order to be ready. It’s been a while since he’s had anything and he doesn’t want to smoke too much because he still has to drive back to Maple Street. He asks if she has anything he can buy and they agree on a deal before returning to the backwoods.
“Maybe we could get drinks or something,” Meg says as she watches Nursey exhale his smoke. “Get to know each other more.”
He passes the joint back to her. “Sure, but fair warning, I’m super in love with my best friend.” This is just a thing he tells people now, apparently. First Chowder, now Meg. He should text Shitty.
Meg laughs out her hit. “Shit. Sorry, man.” Nursey shrugs a little but smiles all the same. “You’re like—a super catch,” she says. “You should totally tell her.”
Nursey feels his face react even though he has spent his life learning how to not react. Samwell spoiled him when it came to casual queerness. Nursey has literally no idea how Meg would respond to Nursey telling her that he’s bisexual. And he hates that the thought of that reaction makes him nervous.
“Maybe,” Nursey murmurs. She passes him the joint again and he lets his hit calm the buzzing under his skin. “It’s like—what happens with you make out with them and then they’re like oh that didn’t mean anything?” Nursey shakes his head. “It’s confusing.”
“Like an onion.”
Nursey understands. “It’s got layers.”
Meg laughs and it makes Nursey smile too.
Eventually Nursey hops out of the car and heads over to the ATM to get cash so he can buy from her. When he returns to Maple Street with weed (and pizza), everyone is way too excited. None of them have anything to smoke with so they make a gravity bong out of an old milk jug and soon enough the four of them are stretched out on the screened in porch, listening to the waves, baked as hell.
Nursey missed weed.
It isn’t until Chowder and Farmer stumble off together full of laughter does Dex shift toward Nursey like he’d just been waiting for them to go.
“I’m sorry about last night,” Dex murmurs, a whisper more than anything. Nursey leans closer like he’s hooked on the sound and it’s pulling him in. “I don’t know what that was,” he rushes. “And I’m not mad or—I hope you’re not mad?”
“I’m not mad,” Nursey whispers back. Anything Dex is willing to give him in regards to a conversation about whatever that was is more than Nursey was expecting, he’ll take it.
“I know I sounded mad earlier. But I like—threw myself at you…?”
“I’m not mad,” he repeats. When Dex doesn’t respond Nursey offers, “You’re going through a lot.”
Dex’s eyebrows furrow. “Yeah,” he exhales.
“Really Dex,” Nursey tries to soothe him. “I’m not opposed to kissing you. Like—” his heart clenches in his chest as he tries to figure out the right words without it being too much. Unless that was already too much? They’re stoned, it’s probably fine. “It wasn’t bad,” he settles with. “I didn’t mind it?”
He looks over and up at Nursey, his eyes cloudy from smoking, and smiles with his eyebrows still furrowed. “No, it wasn’t bad,” he agrees.
Nursey allows himself a smile too. “You look annoyed that I’m a good kisser.”
Nursey laughs and finally Dex eases a little. More than anything he wants to kiss him again. But it’s not quite right, now. And he can wait. “It’s okay, dude,” Nursey tells him once he’s settled. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
“Thanks.” Dex looks back down to his hands.
“You’re a good kisser too,” Nursey tells him.
Nursey knows Dex’s smile only comes so easily because they’ve been smoking, but he doesn’t even care. It’s a smile that makes Nursey feel like all of this is a dream, too good to be true. “Shut up.”
“I feel like people probably bet on when that would happen,” Nursey teases a little. “Someone owes someone a fuck ton of money.”
Dex laughs too, looking back over to Nursey like he’s got the keys to the universe. “We’re not talking about it,” Dex reminds him, still smiling.
Dex settles back down against Nursey’s side, shaking his head a little as he presses his forehead to Nursey’s shoulder. His chest is still tight but his lungs feel wide open. Their hands end up side by side and Nursey wants to twist their fingers together.
“I bet Holtz and Rans would be thrilled,” Dex murmurs after some time has passed. It makes Nursey’s heart seize again, that Dex’s thoughts are still on this. “Must be a d-men thing.”
Nursey twists his hand and brushes his fingertips over Dex’s.
“We should tell them then,” Nursey murmurs back. He’s trying not to think about the fact that Holster and Ransom are together now, like really really, and as subtle as a comparison Nursey’s heart won’t stop somersaulting. He settles into the softness of this moment for all it’s worth. Maybe soon Nursey can really tell Dex how he feels, but not tonight. Tonight is just for this. “Use the old chat.”
Dex exhales a laugh. They used to have a group chat just the four of them, mostly for Holster and Ransom to tell Dex and Nursey to stop being dicks to each other. But there were also lots of d-men wise words passed on, and lots of love between the four of them.
“They’d tell everyone else.”
“D-men bond is sacred, dude.” Dex hums, maybe in agreement. Still playing with Nursey’s fingertips. “Lemme tell Rans.”
“That took so little convincing,” Nursey laughs.
“I mean it’s your life too,” Dex says. He pulls back so he can look at Nursey but in the same motion slides their hands together, lacing their fingers. “I can’t… like…” Nursey brushes his thumb over Dex’s, swimming in this moment. “Make you not say things.”
“Are words a little hard right now?” Nursey asks.
They’ve smoked a lot so Nursey lets it go. He can’t help but forgive Dex a million times over for a million different pains. He’s done it before and he knows if Dex asks him he’ll do it again. Maybe Nursey’s too forgiving in nature but the idea of a second chance with Dex, a real chance at some other point in time, it’s something he wants more than he wants to admit.
And with Dex’s hand in his own it feels like that’s a possibility. A real chance. Later.
So they hold hands, even if it doesn’t mean anything now. And the kiss is just another moment to forget.
Nursey has to be okay with it.
In the days following the kiss and subsequent blow up, Dex keeps his distance from Nursey. Which is probably good. Space is probably good, seeing as Dex has made it clear that whatever Nursey’s feeling right now, Dex is not.
(Nursey told Rans who told Holster, but only Holster.
“Dude,” Ransom exhaled over the phone, sharp. “Tell me. Is this…” he trailed off.
“He’s not where I am yet,” Nursey whispered as quietly as he could, afraid the walls were listening. He might never be, Nursey thought.
But Nursey misses him. Which is crazy because Dex is still here. They still talk but it feels like Dex has been rehearsing what to say beforehand. There’s no lingering glances, no brush of their hands. Some nights after everyone goes to bed Nursey cradles his phone in his hand, waiting for a late night text from Dex like before but it doesn’t come. He considers sending a few of his own and always decides not to.
A few days pass.
In some moments Nursey feels like it’s the only thing he can think about—this whatever it is with Dex—and it makes him feel strangely hollow. In others he sits in the sun and lets the sound of the waves on the shore consume him completely.
He’s on the porch after dinner one night when Dex joins him. Or rather he does that dad thing where he stands with his hands on his hips while there are plenty of places for him to sit. Chowder and Farmer are having date night so they’ve just left to play mini golf and Nursey has grabbed a book he wants to finish.
“Nice night,” Dex eventually says.
Nursey can’t help but laugh. “Uh-huh.” He lowers his book, looking over to Dex who’s kind of rocking on his feet, staring out to the water. “It’s cool we finally got those shutters up,” Nursey says. Or rather, Dex and Farmer got them up but he and Chowder had been the ones to repaint them earlier in the summer. Group effort.
“I think the outside of the house needs another coat of paint and then once we have the roof redone…” Dex trails off. “Yeah. Wow. It is cool, isn’t it?”
Nursey laughs again, softer. “Yeah.” Dex still won’t look at him. “Is everything okay?” Dex shrugs. “Your cousins again?”
It’s been a couple of weeks since Nursey’s heard anything about the will, which is good news. Dex’s brother Davey said that he would handle it and Dex hasn’t been bothered since, but anything could happen.
“Don’t make me say I miss you,” Dex says with a forced laugh, shuffling uncomfortably but finally looking over to him.
Nursey smiles back but his chest aches. He doesn’t think they miss each other in the same ways. Still he says, “I miss you too.” He’ll settle with the ache of it if it’ll ease something inside of Dex. The awkward pull in Dex’s shoulders subsides.
“I’m sorry I made things weird,” Dex murmurs.
Nursey shakes his head. He was already gone for Dex before all of this. “You didn’t,” he promises. Nursey has to push past this because the thought of another day of distance like they’ve had makes him sweat. “I was thinking maybe I’d wake up for the sunrise tomorrow?”
“Oh? You can manage getting out of bed before 10?”
Nursey’s smile begins to feel less forced. In some ways, this has always been easy. Back and forth with Dex is like the push and pull of the waves. “I can certainly try,” he says. Dex finally moves to sit beside him and reaches across for half of the blanket that Nursey’s draped over himself to stay warm. “Maybe I’ll sleep right here,” Nursey carries on. “So I don’t have to get out of bed to see it.”
Dex laughs and it’s not forced like before. “What were you reading?” he asks, gesturing to Nursey’s book.
They talk like normal for the first time in days. Nursey’s book remains set aside as he tells Dex about it, then their conversation drifts like it always does. Dex asks about his writing, Nursey asks about the progress in his uncle’s room. They hear Chowder and Farmer get home at one point but the two of them must think Dex and Nursey are asleep because they themselves turn out all the lights and head up to bed without even sticking their head out.
Soon, hours have passed without much thought to them. He knows that he’s tired when he starts drifting out on Dex’s shoulder.
He’s sure Dex must think he’s asleep (and he mostly is) when he shifts and and opens his arm, allowing Nursey to fall closer to him. How can Dex hold him like this without it meaning anything? Nursey nuzzles closer and lets his dreams carry him away.
In the morning, he’s still on the couch on the porch. And Dex is still here too.
Nursey pulls back confused, squinting into the off-light of the morning. “Dex?” he rasps.
Dex startles, still asleep himself. “S’early,” he manages.
Nursey drops his head back down to where he’d been buried in close before. Even disoriented he’d rather be back asleep against Dex’s side than facing the cold morning air. “You could’ve woken me,” Nursey tells him.
Every few minutes Nursey will open his eyes and the sky is a different color. Empty grays into pale yellows into paler blues.
“Dex?” Nursey tries again.
“I do miss you,” he whispers. In the low light of the morning it feels more like a confession than he means it to. Nursey’s positive that Dex can feel the weight behind every word.
Dex exhales softly, reaching up to rest his hand on the back of Nursey’s head. “We’ll be okay.”
Things don’t necessarily ease back into what they were before, but there is another change after that. Dex grows softer again in small moments, like he’s letting himself linger in them again.
Nursey doesn’t push.
But at some point it starts to feel like more for Nursey again. Dex’s hand seeks out Nursey’s when they end up side by side. Dex leaves another book on Nursey’s bed. When Dex goes above and beyond to cook he’ll enlist Nursey to help and they’ll spend the evening making a mess of the kitchen together.
Anything Dex gives him, Nursey accepts as it. He wants whatever’s next but he’s happy for the in-between.
It morphs into sometimes sharing a bed, into nights just the two of them ducking out to see the stars. Some mornings Dex will tap on Nursey’s door frame until he stirs from sleep. They sit close enough that Nursey can count every individual freckle on Dex’s soft skin.
Moments upon moments upon moments Nursey’s worried he’s putting too much weight into.
And then like every summer, the days begin to bleed together. Nursey wakes up for more sunrises than he anticipates. He watches Dex’s freckles grow darker over time, more prominent. He overhears Chowder propose at least twice. Farmer crushes them all in mini-golf.
For awhile he forgets this too will end.
They’re running out of time together when Farmer asks Nursey if he’ll help her start a fire one night. Rather, Farmer builds the fire and Nursey stands nearby because not only is she much better at it but it brings her more joy than it would him.
“So,” she starts after a while. “When are you and Will gonna…” Farmer trails off, waggling her eyebrows a little. “You know.”
Nursey tries to not laugh but it comes out anyway, his whole face red at whatever thought Farmer might be having. At least he doesn’t think she’s paying much attention as she builds the fire. “It’s nothing,” he tries to say, but he can’t fight his smile. It’s not nothing. “What did Chris tell you?”
“He won’t actually tell me anything,” Farmer says. “Says it’s in the Frog bylaws. So I’ll say things and try to gauge what I can through his reaction.”
“And what have you gauged?”
“Well, you’re very in love.” Nursey’s smile grows and he shakes his head, looking away. “But that’s not through Chris, that’s through you and Will.”
“I wouldn’t say that I’m in love.”
“Fine, but you two are practically dating.” Nursey keeps shaking his head but he can’t shake his smile.
It just feels too hopeful.
“Is it stupid?” Nursey asks. Even with Chowder’s words he still worries that he’s making it all up in his head. That he’s convinced himself Dex doesn’t look at him the way Nursey sees, that he’s putting stars there just because he so desperately wants to see them. “Like… I don’t know.”
“What are you asking me?” Farmer wonders, looking up at where she’s carefully building what will become the fire. Nursey isn’t even sure himself. But Farmer as an outsider to all of this certainly must have her own thoughts. “The amount of times I’ve caught you two just gazing at each other is like, hilarious, Derek. Or like… holding each other?”
Why does it still feel so easy for Nursey to write those things off? Farmer’s saying she’s seeing it happen with her own eyes, so Nursey’s clearly not making it all up in his head.
“We’d be good together,” Nursey says. “Right?”
“I think so,” Farmer tells him. Nursey ducks his head, trying to fight his smile. She pushes herself up and dusts off her hands. “You want that?”
“Yeah,” he tells her. Farmer grins. “Sometimes I don’t know where it came from. I mean. It’s Dex.”
She shrugs. “Makes sense to me.”
“We kissed,” Nursey tells her.
Farmer’s eyes widen. “He didn’t tell me that,” she murmurs. The back door opens and they both turn to find Chowder and Dex coming out to join them. “You should tell him how you feel,” she encourages gently. “Second to last bonfire, baby!” Farmer shouts to the others.
“Ugh, don’t say that,” Nursey warbles.
But they are leaving soon.
The four of them head into Portland to have a nice fancy dinner together and to explore the city one last time. They spend more time as a unit, playing mini golf or lounging on the beach or working on the garden together.
They talk about their plans to drive out West and Nursey legitimately listens and knows how it’s going to work.
And still it doesn’t really set it until he sees Chowder carrying a suitcase down the hallway.
“What are you doing?” Nursey asks.
“Loading my car. You wanna help?”
Chowder’s halfway down the hall when he calls over his shoulder. “You know we leave tomorrow morning, dude.”
Nursey’s heart kicks into overdrive. He hurries down the hall to Chowder’s room and grabs a bag he knows is his before hurrying after him meet Chowder at his car. Most of the back is already loaded. Nursey sets the bag he grabbed down on the ground.
“I feel like there should be more time,” Nursey rasps.
“Aw, Derek.” Chowder sets down his bag and hurries over to him, opening his arms in a rush and pulling him close. “We just talked about this!”
They had, but he hadn’t prepared himself.
Nursey wraps his arms back around Chowder and breathes him in. “Can’t you just stay a little longer?”
Chowder sighs. “I wish we could,” he murmurs. When Chowder pulls back both of their eyes are a little wet. “What’s your plan?” Chowder asks.
Nursey shrugs, looking to the house as he reaches up to wipe his eyes. “More of this, I guess. Keep applying for jobs and hope something pans out. Put more effort into it. Freelance.”
“I mean with Dex.” Immediately, Nursey’s shaking his head. “Nursey you have to tell him. You can’t live in this house and not know.”
“It’s complicated,” Nursey murmurs.
“It’s not. He either feels the same or he doesn’t. But you can’t just… float in limbo for forever.”
“Why not?” he pushes. “If I tell him and he doesn’t feel the same then…” Nursey trails off, not even wanting to think about it. “What—I lose him?” he demands. “The Frogs fall apart because I was too stupid to keep my mouth shut? No.”
Chowder sighs. “We’re never gonna fall apart, Nursey.”
“We could! And I could very easily lose him!”
Not only can Dex cut people out, but Nursey likes the limbo. In not knowing he can protect his heart. He can let himself hope that those lingering glances mean something more. He can flirt without fear.
Once he has a definitive answer, once Dex tells him he doesn’t feel the same, Nursey won’t know how to talk to him—let alone look at him—without feeling like something in his chest is caving in.
“Well what if he feels the same?” Chowder asks gently. “Just—pretend. For a second. That he does.”
For a second.
Nursey lets every look that Dex has given him mean something. He lets their night on the beach be more than grief. He thinks of Dex’s hand on his shoulder or his arm, Dex beside him on the couch for movie nights, Dex leaving books on Nursey’s bed that he found on his run into town for supplies.
He wants it more than he can put into words.
But he only gives himself a moment because that’s not reality. And it hurts too much to sit with that.
“Don’t you want that?” Chowder asks.
Of course. But, “Is it selfish to just—want to stay in limbo for a little bit longer?” No job, the idea of having to move out and back home with his parents, Nursey’s life is a mess. But things with Dex, whatever they are, they’re good.
Chowder sighs. “It’s not selfish,” he says quietly. “It’s just not what you need. You need an answer.” He reaches out, squeezing Nursey’s shoulder. “So you can move into whatever’s next. Whatever that’s gonna be.”
Nursey feels tears well in his eyes and he turns away. He’s afraid. Of so many things. Everything is uncertain right now, it feels like, and Nursey needs solid ground or he’s going to drown in it.
Samwell had structure. He had classes and hockey. The team, the frogs. He knew what came next.
Now there’s nothing. He has to make it up as he goes, Nursey’s never been one for planning. Anything is a possibility. And that is terrifying.
But Chowder’s right.
“I don’t know how,” Nursey whispers.
“There are a million ways,” Chowder tells him. “Pick one.”
“What if it’s the wrong way?”
“It won’t be,” Chowder promises.
Now, Nursey thinks.
While Chowder and Farmer are still here. While there’s a buffer. Then he can just pack up his things and leave too and it’ll be easier on everyone when Dex inevitably says no.
Their last night is spent around a fire outside, the four of them finishing off as much of their leftover shitty beer as they can and just soaking up one another’s presence.
They let Farmer talk about her fears when it comes to starting grad school and they listen to Chowder ramble about having a Real Salaried Job that he worries he’s not ready for and in the end, all four of them know this one thing: whatever happens, they’ll be okay. Dex and Nursey spend the night reassuring them that the West Coast will welcome them home, that it’s going to be hard but a good adjustment, that it’s okay for them to plant roots so far away.
“It’s never too far that we won’t come to you,” Nursey tells him.
It does feel a little like Nursey’s reached into his chest and given pieces to Chowder and Farmer, that he’ll feel a little more empty with them gone. But in the same breath he’s happy for them and their future because he knows it’s going to be a good one. It’s complicated, wishing your friend away but still wanting them near.
He’s really gonna fucking miss them.
Chowder and Farmer and Dex, the three of them have been his people for the last four years of his life. And they always will be, but it’s about to change in ways Nursey’s worried they’re not ready for.
Farmer heads to sleep first, kissing both Nursey and Dex on the forehead while just blowing one to Chowder before going inside.
“We’ll be engaged before we get to San Francisco,” Chowder tells them once Farmer’s far away enough.
Nursey and Dex trade a look. “Like, actually?” Nursey wonders. “Farmer said you propose all the time.”
“Had to throw her off the scent,” Chowder explains.
Dex laughs. “Dude.”
“Well I mean we’ll be engaged if she says yes. But I think she will.”
“I think she will,” Dex agrees.
“Holy shit,” Nursey exhales. “Like—”
“Like I’ve already asked her dad, and all that, yeah,” Chowder tells them. Almost at the same time, Nursey and Dex lunge at Chowder, the three of them falling down onto the sand as a tangle of limbs. “I want to spend my life with her, guys.”
“I love you two so much,” Nursey rushes. “This is the best best.”
Dex is all smiles too and there’s so much laughter in the air between the three of them that Nursey feels high on it. More than once he and Dex’s eyes meet and every time it makes Nursey’s stomach flip but it’s still not the right time.
They all head in to bed at the same time and there’s something weirdly final about it. The house is quiet as they enter like it’s waiting to hear their last goodnights. The three of them trade glances and smiles and Nursey’s entire chest seizes because these are his best friends in the entire world and this is the last night that it will be just the three of them for awhile.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you guys,” Dex rasps, clearly thinking somewhere along the same line as Nursey.
“Me neither,” Chowder hurries. “Like, I love you?”
“I love both of you very much,” Nursey agrees, quiet.
Dex’s voice is tight when he says, “I’m going to sleep now.”
“Wait!” Chowder bursts. He reaches out for both of them and then all three men are wound together, the tightest group hug that they’ve ever shared before.
Maybe if Nursey squeezes them hard enough, he’ll never lose them.
Nursey doesn’t need his alarm to wake up in the morning. He isn’t sure he sleeps. Every time the house creaks with movement he reminds himself of what he’s about to lose and he spirals, sending sleep elsewhere. But at some point the house actually wakes and Nursey can hear footsteps and distant conversations and he knows he should just get out of bed.
Eventually Dex ducks his head in. “Derek,” he says gently.
“I know,” Nursey rasps. “I’m up.”
Dex sighs. Nursey sits up and looks toward Dex, finding him in the doorway with the saddest smile Nursey’s even seen.
Chowder and Farmer have a lot of ground to cover. They stay for the beginnings of the sunrise, hold Dex and Nursey in a giant group hug while pretending none of them are crying, and then climb into their cars for the first leg of their journey.
Not having slept and seeing as it goes by so quickly, Nursey feels like it must be a dream. He’ll wake soon and find his friends in the kitchen downstairs. But the harder he blinks the more awake he grows and the farther his friends become.
They’re gone only moments before Nursey misses them.
Once the sound of their cars is truly gone and nothing but the distant ocean and the awakening earth remain, Dex nudges him with his elbow.
“Come watch the sunrise with me,” Dex says.
Nursey follows him through the house in silence, out past the screened in porch so they can welcome the morning without barriers.
Here, Nursey thinks.
With the sun rising in front of them he can tell Dex how he feels. Before too much time has passed and they settle into a new normal of just the two of them. They can’t settle into something because if it’s good Nursey will be too afraid to disrupt it.
But this still feels too soon. They need a night to adjust to Chowder and Farmer leaving.
Besides, he can’t ruin this moment. The ocean stretching out in front of them. To shake himself from his thoughts Nursey swats him with the sleeve of his sweater and Dex grabs it with one hand.
“Stay with me tonight,” Nursey murmurs as Dex pulls him closer. He doesn’t mean to ask. And he knows he shouldn’t. But he feels greedy and almost afraid and wants it before he has the possibility of losing it.
His eyes are alight with wonder. “Why?” he asks.
“Big house. It’ll be quiet.”
“My bed’s bigger,” Dex counters.
“So I’ll stay with you,” Nursey concedes.
Nursey climbs back into his own bed once the sun is in the sky because he’s tired and sad and it’s easier to wind himself in his blankets than confront it. When he wakes up a few hours later there’s fresh coffee and Dex is in the office doing some coding work. Eventually Nursey grabs his laptop and starts applying for jobs too, some local, some far. It’s become monotonous at this point and nothing strikes his interest.
He tries writing but words falter. A story, a memoir, maybe a more appropriate goodbye to the summer. But Nursey alternates between staring at his blank document and looking up to Dex, watching him work.
He doesn’t mean to let himself get caught. “What?” Dex asks when he sees him.
Dex has been working steadily for awhile now, in a groove that Nursey’s been lacking, and his golden eyes shine with the high of success.
“Nothing,” Nursey answers. He ducks his head, hides his smile. “What should we do for dinner?”
Dex leans back in his seat like he’s giving himself a break. “I could cook.”
“I can help,” Nursey offers.
“What’re you hungry for?” Dex asks. “I’m sure I could dig around and find something but we’ll probably have to shop soon anyway.” Folded in the nook, Nursey settles himself with his chin in his hand. “What?” Dex says again, smiling.
“Nothing,” Nursey says another time. He’s both frustrated and relieved at how easy this is. “I’m up for anything. Do you want anything?”
“There’s probably some pasta in there.”
“Do you want pasta?” Nursey asks warmly.
“Pasta it is,” Nursey concludes.
They step into a routine like it’s already existed before today, and in some ways maybe it has. Nursey thought he would be afraid of something this easy but instead he finds he feels like he’s floating.
Nursey knows that dinner isn’t a date. They’ve cooked together dozens of times before just this summer alone, making a mess of the kitchen and laughing their way through the mistakes.
But Dex lights a candle and they sit to watch the sunset as they eat and with Dex always gazing at Nursey like he’s hanging on every word that Nursey speaks and it feels like a date. More than once Nursey finds himself wanting Dex closer. The thought of twisting their ankles together under the table constantly alternates with the idea of reaching across the table to grab Dex’s hand.
Still, it feels like the time isn’t right.
Nursey offers to clean up seeing as Dex did most of the cooking and then after that they head for the beach to get in a walk even though the sun has already sunk below the horizon.
And even then when their hands brush once, twice, three times before they lace their fingers together, the time isn’t right. Nursey’s heart twirls in his chest and floats in his stomach and Dex anchors him to the moment.
They talk like nothing’s changed but Nursey’s sure it has.
When they get back inside they head to their own rooms to get ready and Nursey starts getting inside his head. What the hell are they doing? Maybe Dex is just grieving and all of this is displaced emotions. Or maybe Dex is just learning how to be more open and with his vulnerability comes pieces of him that Nursey is only viewing as romantic because that’s what he wants?
He heads down the hall, suddenly hesitant.
Nursey knocks on the doorframe. “Dex?”
He looks up from where he’s stretched out in his bed, browsing his phone, and smiles. It makes Nursey ache in the best way. Casual, familiar, domestic. If Nursey lets his imagination run away from him, he can see flashes of this in his forever. Different rooms, different smiles, still Dex.
Any hesitation is gone in a heartbeat.
Nursey eases into the room and hits the light on the way to send them into darkness.
“Maybe you should get a dog,” Nursey says as he climbs into bed.
“What would we do with a dog?” Dex murmurs.
“Uh, love it?” Dex snorts while he and Nursey shift to face each other. “Maybe a cat then,” Nursey offers. “It’s a big house. We should fill it.”
“We could get roommates,” Dex tells him.
“I can’t believe you’re already thinking about replacing Farmer and Chowder. How dare you.”
“And getting a pet isn’t low-key replacing them?” Dex tosses back with a smile.
“No it’s different,” Nursey tries to reason. “Like, pet love is like. That’s my child. You know?” Dex laughs and Nursey’s own smile grows. “Chowder and Farmer aren’t my children, just my family.”
Dex’s smile softens. “Yeah,” he agrees. The light is low but Dex is close enough that he and Nursey can still see one another. “Do you want a cat? Or a dog?”
Nursey frowns. “You want me to choose?”
“Fine,” Dex laughs.
Nursey makes himself move to his back and closes his eyes so he’s not looking at Dex anymore. With Dex’s window still open the sound of the waves could carry Nursey to sleep if he wanted them to.
“I miss them,” he murmurs. “They’re going to be so far.”
“Yeah,” Dex whispers back. Nursey squeezes his eyes tighter to fight the threat of tears. “I’m happy for them,” Dex says after awhile, but there’s an ache in his voice that Nursey knows himself. To spend so much time around two people who love each other so easily, it makes Nursey long for it even more than before. Dex may not always be the most romantic but Nursey can only imagine he wants a soft love too. “They get to stay together. It’s not always like that for some people.”
Nursey thinks of that hard first year apart for Jack and Bitty, those few months for Ransom and Holster when their jobs sent them to different places. Nursey feels lucky that he has Dex here beside him. But just as Nursey misses Chowder and Farmer with them farther away, even if he wasn’t in bed beside Dex tonight he knows his heart would feel the same.
“We’ll find that,” Nursey tells him. It feels like there’s something inside of him that’s buzzing. Even on opposite sides of the bed, speaking about love with Dex makes Nursey feel as though there’s no space between them. “One day.”
Maybe soon, he thinks. Maybe with each other.
“Maybe,” Dex whispers back.
Nursey eases his eyes open, turning his head to the side to look at Dex. In the moonlight he looks like he could already be asleep. “I think it’s easy to love you.”
Dex opens his eyes and finds Nursey’s at once, but just as quickly they fall shut again. “Go to sleep,” Dex exhales. Nursey wants to keep pushing them toward the conversation he knows they need to have—but here? In Dex’s bed? He sighs, closing his eyes again. Nursey’s nearly asleep when Dex murmurs, “You deserve someone.”
Nursey’s voice is thick with sleep when he responds. “Maybe.”
“No, you do,” Dex carries on, sounding much more awake than Nursey feels. But that fact alone can’t bring him to open his eyes again, no matter how hard he tries. “And you’re gonna find someone great. I know that.”
Soon, Nursey thinks.
He can only hum in response.
In the morning, Dex is still in bed.
“No sunrise?” Nursey rasps.
“Hasn’t stopped you before,” Nursey mutters. But when Dex doesn’t move, Nursey reaches out to pulls him closer. “Go back to sleep, Will.” It takes way too much effort for Nursey to open his eyes but he does so anyway, and when he finds Dex staring at the ceiling he nearly groans. “Poindexter,” he reprimands.
“I could make coffee. Do you want coffee?”
“No, I want to sleep more.” Dex lets himself be pulled closer still. “Coffee later.”
“Coffee now,” Dex murmurs, but he’s so close that his voice sends shivers down Nursey’s spine. When his eyes ease open to look at Dex, he finds him with his own eyes closed.
“Coffee later,” Nursey whispers again, letting himself close his eyes again too.
He’s in some soft space between sleep and wake when Dex softly says, “Let’s take the day off. No house work, no job work.” Nursey hums, curling his fingers into Dex’s shirt. “We deserve it.”
“Yeah,” Nursey agrees. “We do.”
Outside, the waves crash on. And when the sun rises and clears the gray from the sky, they’re still side by side in bed, looking for reasons to stay.
In truth, not much changes with Farmer and Chowder gone.
Nursey’s less nervous to get caught staring at Dex by someone who will chirp him relentlessly, but other than that it’s just him and Dex doing their own thing in their big house. Nursey starts legitimately applying for jobs and hears back about a couple of phone interviews, Dex continues digging through the archives of family memories in his uncle’s house.
One morning Nursey spends his day alone in town browsing shops and making small talk with whoever ends up behind the counter. Another he and Dex will see how far they can walk on the beach before deciding to turn back for the house. But no matter what they do at the end of the day they have each other to turn to.
Four days after Chowder and Farmer have left, Nursey and Dex are sitting on the back porch watching the sun go down. Nursey’s been inspired lately, steadily ignoring applying for jobs so he can instead finish the story he’s been working on, and Dex beside him seems to be on a roll too.
It’s the sound of one of the birds that makes Nursey look up from his screen. He nudges Dex a little so he’ll look up and then together they soak up the vivid orange that paints the sky. It doesn’t matter that the sun sets behind the house, sometimes the view is just as beautiful.
It’s nearly dark all the way when Nursey looks over to Dex’s screen and just flat out laughs.
“What?” Dex asks, affronted. Like he’s trying to defend himself from something already.
“Nothing! It’s just sometimes I look at your screen,” Nursey tells him, “and I see all that code and I just…” he trails off, shaking his head while he widens his eyes.
Dex chuckles. “That’s how I feel when I look at your screen,” he says, gesturing toward Nursey’s chaotic word doc. Random sentences here and there, disjointed bullet points that don’t make sense. “Is that ever going to be finished?”
Nursey closes his laptop. “Not today,” he admits. He leans closer to Dex’s laptop, trying to read the code he’s working on. “And is this ever going to be a…” he trails off. “Program?” He legitimately has no idea what Dex could be working on.
“It already is,” Dex says. “I’m just fixing some bugs.”
“Uh-huh. You’re impressive.”
“Shut up, Nursey,” Dex laughs.
Nursey means it. “I could never do that!” He scoots closer, putting himself in Dex’s space so he can look at the screen again. “Like…” Nursey squints, shaking his head again.
Dex looks over at Nursey and when their eyes meet, Nursey thinks about leaning in. He’s been thinking about it a lot lately, kissing Dex. His eyes fall to Dex mouth as he tries fighting the thought, reminding himself that now’s now a good time.
But when is?
His eyes crawl back up to meet Dex’s and there’s a look shared between them that Nursey knows has to mean more. Or—fuck, he’s still wanting it to mean more. People don’t just gaze at each other like this in the middle of the day while talking about fucking computer coding.
But the thought of taking this moment and introducing his feelings to it makes Nursey’s stomach ache. Just like with every soft and wonderful moment that they share. If Nursey takes a piece of their joy and inserts his reality into it and Dex doesn’t feel the same then that piece of joy is gone forever, along with all the rest of them, tainted by what Nursey really wants.
“I could teach you,” Dex finally says. “If you want.”
“Teach me to code?” Nursey asks. He huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, okay.”
“It’s not that hard. We could go over some basics tonight and—”
“That poetry thing’s tonight,” Nursey interrupts to remind him. Dex wrinkles his nose and Nursey laughs, nudging him. The last time Nursey picked up their order at The Pizza Castle (aka two days ago), Meg invited him to an event. “I told you that you don’t have to come. But I still wanna go.”
“It’s just in town, yeah?”
“Mm-hm, right by the bookstore.” Dex shifts to close his laptop a little. “It might be really horrible,” Nursey tells him. “But I miss hearing other people’s work live, you know?”
Something shifts in Dex’s eyes and he nods. “Yeah. Well I hope it’s not horrible.”
“What will you do?” Nursey asks, just wondering.
Dex looks back down to his computer, mouth quirking to the side. “More coding, maybe.” Again he looks at Nursey. “When’s it start?”
Nursey digs his phone out of his pocket to check the time and sees a text from Meg. “Soon,” he murmurs. “I should go.” He know it’s not going to be anything like Samwell but he’s excited to be in the same space as other writers no matter their skill. Besides, Meg is cool and Nursey’s going to need to start making some more friends in this place. “I’m nervous?” he admits.
Dex frowns. “Why?” Then softer. “Because of the girl you’re going with?”
“No,” Nursey hurries. “I mean like, yeah. She’s cool so I want to impress her in general because I need people to like me all the time always.” Dex laughs a little but his eyebrows are still tugged together in confusion. “I don’t know. It’s weird to be a person outside of this house.”
Not that he’s not looking forward to it. But this whole summer was just him and Dex and Chowder and Farmer and now Nursey’s really putting down roots. He’s making connections and going to events and starting a life here, piece by piece. This is his life now. Anything he does he’s doing just because he wants to.
“It’ll be fun,” Dex encourages.
Nursey smiles. “I hope so.”
Before Nursey can stand Dex leans over and presses a kiss to Nursey’s neck, soft but intentional.
“Let me know how it goes,” Dex says as he pulls back. Nursey’s holds his gaze as he eases back, nodding, and feels ten times lighter than he did a moment before. Dex’s smile is soft and sure and Nursey nods again, pushing himself off the couch to collect himself.
“Will do,” Nursey tells him.
As he walks to his car he lifts his fingers to his neck to press against the spot Dex’s lips touched his skin.
Dex kissed his neck.
In a totally non platonic soft kinda way, not when they’ve been drinking, not for any reason other than to say goodbye. Sometimes Nursey thinks he makes up moments but that was definitely intentional.
His thoughts are on Dex his entire drive into town but once he’s there he lets himself get lost in the event. He meets Meg at the door and she introduces him to some people she went to high school with and they’re all super friendly in ways Nursey isn’t super expecting. A couple of them share something that they’ve written and when they speak of love his thoughts drift back to that big house on the coast that he’s not in.
It’s a monthly thing but Meg tells him about some other events in-between and another one of her friends invites him to a party in a few days so Nursey calls it a win.
guess who made FRIENDS
Couldn’t be you
How was it?
don’t go getting jealous you’re still my favorite
What a relief
it was good!!
omw home now
you hungry? i can stop at mcdonalds?
Thank god I was hoping you would offer
When he gets home Dex is waiting for him with Netflix already queued up. “It was good?” he asks in greeting. Nursey tosses him the bag he picked up that Dex catches with a smile. “Not weird?”
“A little weird,” Nursey admits. “But mostly good. Meg’s cool.” He settles in beside Dex, happy to be home. “We’re going to Meg’s friend’s birthday bonfire thing soon,” Nursey tells him. “Some girl named…” he trails off, trying to remember. Nursey’s not great at remembering names right away, though he’s excellent at remembering faces. “Julia?”
“Jessica?” Dex offers.
Nursey startles. “Yeah!”
“That’s Chad’s girlfriend.”
Nursey sits up, jaw open. “Home Depot Chad?” And then, “The girlfriend who had the barbeque?!”
“Yes,” Dex answers. “He just texted me about it yesterday, I was gonna ask if you wanted to go.” Nursey corrects himself, closing his mouth and trying not to look so smug. But he can’t, his stupid smile always wins. “What’s that face?” Dex asks, gesturing.
“We’re like,” he doesn’t know how to put words to it. It feels like light inside of him. “Doing it?”
Being adults, making friends, putting down roots. All that jazz. They’re figuring it out. They can totally do this.
“We have to find jobs first,” Dex reminds him, tight.
“We will,” Nursey soothes. He reaches out for Dex’s hand but Dex spots him and moves, offering him the McDonald’s bag as though that’s what he’d been reaching for. Hiding his disappointment Nursey grabs some fries and turns back to the TV. “What’re we watching?” he asks.
Nursey ignores the way he can still feel Dex’s lips on his neck.
In the morning, Dex climbs into Nursey’s bed while Nursey’s still asleep.
“Will?” he rasps.
“Of course he’s still sleeping,” Nursey hears, but not in Dex’s voice. His eyes snap open to find Dex in a video chat with Chowder and Farmer, the both of them smiling through Dex’s screen. “G’morning Nursey,” Chowder greets.
Nursey turns, pressing his face into Dex’s side. “I miss them,” he whines.
“I know,” Dex says gently as he rests his hand on Nursey’s back. He’s gently rubbing his back for a second before Nursey eventually rolls around again to look at the screen. “Where’re you guys now?” Dex asks.
“We just left Cait’s friend’s in Iowa,” Chowder says. They’re in the car, must be Farmer’s phone but Chowder’s driving. “Yellowstone soon.”
There’s something in his voice when he says it that make Dex and Nursey trade a look.
“That’ll be cool,” Dex says evenly. “Take lots of pictures.”
“Obviously,” Farmer chimes in.
They chat idly for a bit while Nursey wakes himself up, slowly rubbing at his eyes and stretching the muscles in his back. Every now and then he’ll feel Dex’s eyes on him and it takes all of his sleepy energy to not catch him in the middle of it.
“How are things going for… you two?” Farmer trails off, eyebrows high on her forehead.
“I went to a poetry thing last night,” Nursey says with a yawn. “Pretty cool.”
“I had a job interview yesterday morning,” Dex returns.
Nursey turns to him. “What? When? Where?”
“You didn’t know?” Chowder asks.
“I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up,” Dex hurries. “Okay? Relax. I still don’t know how it went, really.”
“Was I asleep?” Nursey demands.
“You’re always asleep, Nurse,” Dex says gently. “It was just a phone interview. Can we calm down now?”
Nursey frowns at him. “You didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t tell anyone.”
“I’m sure it was great,” Farmer chimes in, reminding the both of them that they’re still on the phone. “You’ll have to let us know once you know, okay?”
“Yeah,” Dex agrees.
It sounds like a sign-off so they say their goodbyes quickly and let Chowder and Farmer get on with their day. In bed, Nursey’s still frowning. “It went well, you think?” Nursey asks. He doesn’t want to grumble anymore but he still wishes Dex had told him.
“I think so,” Dex answers quietly. “But I don’t know. I never know.” He shrugs. “It’s not like a dream job or anything.”
“A job’s a job,” Nursey reminds him. “Doesn’t have to be.”
But that one job that Dex got right at the end of college, that was a dream job. Paid well, great benefits, exactly what Dex wanted to do. Maybe it wasn’t Dex’s dream to be in New York but the job was a good one and he and Nursey would’ve been close if Nursey moved back home.
Nursey shifts in bed so he’s facing Dex more and leans back against his headboard while he watches Dex fiddle with his phone.
“What?” Dex asks without looking.
“Did you want to be in New York?” Nursey asks.
Dex’s eyes dart up, then down. “I’d liked it every time we’d gone,” he answers slowly. “And.” Dex’s voice drops. “You were gonna be there.” He asks his question without giving Nursey any time to think about what he’s said. “Did you want to be in New York?”
He wants to sit with Dex’s words but his heart is hammering and answering Dex’s question is easier than pushing him for more. “I wasn’t excited about it,” Nursey admits. “But I love the city. I would’ve been okay.”
Dex nods but still doesn’t look at Nursey and climbs out of bed in the same motion. “I made coffee,” he said as he heads for the door. “If you want any.”
Nursey spends the next few days applying for a lot of jobs.
In Portland, in New York, in San Francisco. It doesn’t matter. If it’s on Idealist and relevant to his skills and interests he applies for it.
you could work at the pizza place with me
well i mean maybe let me see if we’re hiring
Nursey applies locally too. Not to the pizza place because they’re not actually hiring (thanks Meg) but to a few coffee shops and bookstores. Most of them are temporary work for now with the summer ending but maybe he could do a little of something and then some more of something else.
Nursey stops his franic spree when one night while they’re walking the beach Dex says, “Didn’t get that job.”
Nursey feels his heart crack a little. “No? Damn, Dex.”
Dex shrugs. “It’s okay.”
“You’ll get the next one,” Nursey insists.
“I might not,” Dex mutters. “That has to be okay, too.”
Nursey’s on the phone with Rans when he gets the call.
“But so you’re like, living there,” Ransom wonders, still trying to process everything Nursey’s told him about his not-relationship with Dex. “And sometimes you sleep together, but don’t have sex. And you’re not dating?”
“You’re dating,” Ransom says. “You’re so fucking intimate are you joking?”
“You’re definitely dating,” Holster agrees, but from farther away like he’s just loudly yelling into the call.
“You just have to have the conversation,” Ransom encourages. “The sooner the better, eh?”
“I don’t wanna,” Nursey whines. If Dex feels the same then why can’t he do it? Why does Nursey have to do it? “Ugh. How did you two do it?”
Ransom laughs. “It’s never going to be easy, Nursey.”
Holster steals Ransom’s phone and says, “I spilled my soul out to him and he had a panic attack and locked himself in the bathroom.”
“Holtz,” Ransom whines with a laugh.
“I hope to God it’s easier for you,” Holster says, also laughing.
Nursey misses them deeply. “Me too,” he whispers back. “Maybe I’ll write him a letter, I don’t know.”
“That’s cute!” Holster says. His phone hums in his hand so Nursey pulls it back to look at the name. “Into that.”
“Have to go,” Nursey says quickly. Farmer’s FaceTiming him. “Love you guys.”
“Love you,” Holtz says.
“Love you!” Ransom agrees, farther.
Nursey answers the FaceTime and there, on the screen, is Farmer’s engagement ring.
“Fuck yes!” Nursey jumps out of his bed. “Will!” he shouts. Nursey rushes into the hallway and sprints downstairs, knowing Dex is around somewhere. “Oh my God oh my God oh my God.”
“Ahhhh!” Farmer agrees.
“It happened!” Nursey shouts. “Will where the fuck—” he spins and finds Dex on the porch. “Look!” He tosses his phone to Dex who catches it with eyebrows furrowed.
“Is that—” Dex starts.
Farmer’s voice makes Nursey grin, “WE’RE GETTING MARRIED, BITCHES!”
Nursey rushes to Dex as Dex grins too. “Holy fuck!”
There’s laughter and Dex and Nursey are hugging and soon Chowder’s in the screen too and there’s more laughter and cheering and Nursey feels like a balloon that someone’s let air out of, shooting like a rocket around the room. His smile refuses to fade and he and Dex settle with their arms around one another’s shoulders or waists as they talk to their friends and it feels good. He feels so goddamn good right now.
“We’ll send you lots of pictures,” Chowder promises. “We have a lot of people to call though.”
“Oh my God of course,” Nursey rushes. “Go, go!”
They share their love before sending quick goodbyes and hanging up. The moment the phone is black Dex tugs Nursey into a hug, holding him tightly in his arms. Nursey nearly drops his phone in shock but soon is winding his own arms around Dex, letting the blooming of warmth in his chest continue to grow instead of cutting it as it blossoms.
“I can’t believe they’re really engaged,” Nursey murmurs.
Dex pulls back, his smile still sure and his eyes still bright. “I can.” He rests his hands on Nursey’s shoulders and squeezes and then they’re just there, gazing at one another.
“I—” Nursey starts, but then his phone buzzes and scares him into silence. “It’s the pictures,” he says, pulling back completely so they can look at his phone again.
Dex stays close, shoulder to shoulder, as they scroll through the images that Chowder’s sent them, but Nursey’s words die on his lips.
It’s Friday and Nursey gets a whole slew of rejection emails at once. Like they’re trying to get them in before 5pm so if he wants to complain they don’t have to deal with it until Monday morning.
Six in total.
Dex finds him in the office, slumped over his computer. “Let’s go get food,” Dex says. Nursey closes his computer without words and stands in the same motion. “What are you hungry for?”
“Comfort food,” Nursey mutters.
“Pizza Castle?” Dex offers as they start for the door. “I’ve never actually been.”
“Then obviously we’re going to The Pizza Castle,” Nursey says.
In the car, Nursey tries not to let his six rejection emails bog him down. At least he got responses at all. So much of job hunting these days is just throwing your resume into the void and hoping someone else farther down in the void who is looking for it happens to see it. Nursey sent his applications to a lot of places, of course not all of them are going to be interested. Maybe none of them.
“What’s wrong?” Dex finally asks.
“More job rejections,” Nursey murmurs.
Dex glances over at him briefly before starting the car. There’s something about the fact that Dex’ll drive even though he’s never been so he doesn’t know how to get there just because Nursey doesn’t like to drive that dulls the sting a little.
“I’m sorry Nurse,” he says quietly.
“Just a lot at once, it’ll be fine.”
Dex nods a little but it seems like his thoughts are somewhere else, which is fine too. They’ve gotten busy in their own ways. Dex has been taking on more freelance coding work so he hunkers down on that or does more work around the house while Nursey reads or spends time in town. This is the first time in a few days that they’ve spent a long stretch of time together.
His head is back against the headrest but Nursey tips to look at Dex as he drives. “How’s your job hunt going?” he asks, but Dex shakes his head. “Okay.” The quiet returns. “I noticed you fixed the squeak in the bathroom door.”
“It was driving me nuts,” Dex mutters.
Slowly, Nursey tips his head back to looking forward. When they get to The Pizza Castle things still feel a little weird between them. Nursey isn’t sure if it’s just him or not so he nudges Dex before they climb out of the car.
“We can order to go,” Nursey offers. Dex is the one who suggested they get food but it doesn’t seem like he really wants to hang around, and Nursey knows when a storm is brewing with Dex. He’ll do what he can to prevent it. “Really.”
“It’s fine,” Dex tells him.
Inside, Meg is working the counter. She smiles and waves, her eyes darting to Dex curiously as they enter, and Nursey realizes that he’s yet to tell Meg that the best friend he’s in love with isn’t a woman. It doesn’t feel like the right time to explain all of it and still when they approach the cash register Nursey gestures to Dex anyway.
“Hey! This is my best friend,” Nursey says intentionally, guiding him forward. “Will. The one whose house we’re redoing. Or well. Redone, now, mostly.”
Meg’s eyebrows pull together. “Huh. Hey.”
“Derek decided this was our pizza joint so I figured I should make the drive out eventually,” Dex tells her. “You must be Meg.”
“That’s me.” She looks down at the cash register. “What can I get started for you two?”
Nursey doesn’t know if Dex’s weird attitude earlier is coloring this interaction for him but something about Meg’s tone makes him feel cold. Still, they place their order, and then the two of them move over to one of the booths to wait until it’s ready so they can take it to go. Meg disappears into the back but now Nursey’s thoughts are firmly somewhere else.
They talked about it again the last time they hung out, Nursey still being into his best friend.
“Do you think this place is queer friendly?” Nursey asks.
Dex’s face shifts and hardens. “Probably not.” Then he shrugs, pulling his hands across the table and onto his lap. “I don’t know. Kind of.”
“Like, the town as a whole,” Nursey amends.
Dex shrugs again. “It’s pretty moderate,” he answers. Nursey arches an eyebrow and Dex huffs, eyes elsewhere. “Not anti not pro but they’d certainly rather you not be pro. Of course I’ve looked into it.” When his eyes find Nursey’s again they’re sharp. “Sometimes it’s just shit.”
Nursey frowns. “Portland’s not bad,” he says. And the city isn’t even that far.
“We’re not in Portland,” Dex returns. Sometimes Dex talks to him like he’s an idiot, like his thoughts are too big to be rational. Then, low. “Are you sure this is where you want to end up?”
Dex’s question rattles Nursey in a way he isn’t expecting. “What do you mean?”
“You could still move home.”
Nursey leans back in his seat and crosses his arms over his chest. “Is that what you want?”
“I’m just saying it’s still an option. You don’t have any ties here yet.”
“I have you,” Nursey returns.
Dex stills. He stays quiet until their food arrives, and Meg drops it off in near silence as well. Nursey doesn’t completely understand why Dex is so tense now but with their dinner there they don’t have to talk about it. As Nursey eases as he eats, Dex seems to tighten.
After they eat, they pay and start heading out, Meg not meeting his gaze as he calls out a quick goodbye. “Do you want me to drive?” Nursey asks as they walk for the car.
“You seem mad, I don’t know.”
“I’m not mad,” Dex snaps. Definitely mad.
In the passenger seat Nursey feels worse than he did when he first checked his email. He thought Dex was inviting him out for food because he knew he was bummed and eating together would help but the only thing that’s changed is how anxious Nursey is. Maybe Dex has his own shit going on. They’re both quiet for the ride home and Dex puts on some music to fill the space between them, but something’s clearly wrong.
“You sure you’re okay?” Nursey asks as they pull up on Maple Street. “I’m all ears if you wanna talk about something, you know.”
Dex parks and cuts the engine. “This place isn’t going to be what you want it to be,” he tells Nursey as he reaches for the door.
Nursey frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean there aren’t jobs here and the people are going to be a little homophobic and a lot racist and that’s just what this place is. That’s it.” Dex climbs out of the car while Nursey sits in confusion, trying to understand what’s happening. Dex doesn’t get far before Nursey hurries out of the car after him.
“Dude,” Nursey calls. Dex stalks inside anyway. With a huff Nursey follows after him, trying to shake all of the dark feelings that are building up. He kicks off his shoes by the door and follows Dex into the living room. “I already had a long day,” Nursey murmurs once Dex finally stops walking. “I don’t want to fight.”
“Yes you do,” Dex tosses back.
“No, I don’t,” Nursey says again, a bit more tense than before. “But it feels like you do?” Dex folds his arms over his chest and looks away, sharp, building a wall before Nursey’s eyes. Keeping his tone even he asks, “Why are you looking for a fight?”
“I’m not,” Dex growls. Nursey holds his hands out as if to say then what the fuck? “It’s—” he looks up, eyes only landing on Nursey for a moment before he asks, “Why are you staying here?”
Nursey feels his veins turn to ice. “What?”
“Why did you want to stay? What’s here for you?” Dex opens his arms to gesture widely to the space around them. “You should be in—San Francisco with Chowder and Farmer or—” he laughs, dark. “New York! Some place you actually fucking belong, not—”
“I like it here,” Nursey cuts him off. “It’s not… what I expected, but—”
“But what?” Dex interrupts.
“But I’m in love with you,” Nursey whispers. It seizes his heart like it’s the only thing he’s ever said that’s actually meant something. He feels his lungs shrink two sizes, every breath suddenly harder than the last. “Is that what you want to hear?” he pleads. “That I wanted to stay because I’m in love with you? Because I am, but—” Dex starts shaking his head and goes to step away but Nursey reaches out, snagging the sleeve of his sweater. “Dex.”
“That shouldn’t be a reason for you to stay,” Dex snaps. Sharp in ways that catches Nursey off guard. Not that he’d anticipated a certain reaction out of Dex but anger definitely wasn’t even considered.
Nursey drops Dex’s sleeve at once, shifting away on his own.
There are a million reasons for him to stay. His favorite pizza place is right down the road. The sunrise reminds him what it feels like to be alive. He hasn’t thought about running into anyone he went to high school with in weeks. The air here smells of opportunity, the waves crash with stories untold.
But Nursey can’t tell him all of that now. That isn’t where his thoughts get caught. “You’ve known,” he exhales.
Dex folds his arms over his chest again. Of course he’s known. Nursey’s given so much of himself to Dex that everyone else has already seen it. And this look now, this set jaw that Dex has, this darkness in his eyes. It’s not a look that feels the same.
Nursey doesn’t even know where to begin but he knows that this is not how he wanted any of this to happen. He’s not good under pressure but neither of them are speaking and the silence is beginning to physically hurt.
“So everything…” Nursey trails off, surprised how tight his chest is. He legitimately thought he could at least make it through this conversation, no matter the outcome, without having to stop and breathe. He thought he’d prepared himself for Dex telling him that none of it had reason. But clearly he hasn’t, because this is fucking painful. “All those nights.” Walks on the beach and falling asleep by one another’s side. “Everything we’ve been doing.” Every look in between, every brush of their hands. “What did all of that mean to you?” he rasps.
Dex still isn’t looking at him when he says, “You’re my best friend.”
“And?” he pleads.
Dex shakes his head. “What do you want me to say, Nursey?” He wanted it to mean something more. He thought it meant something more. “I think you’re great,” Dex adds in a breath. “One of the best people I know. And I care about you so much. But…”
But he doesn’t feel the same.
Nursey shifts back another step, almost feeling nauseous. “I’ll go,” he says, surprised at how even his voice is, at how quickly he’s come to this conclusion. Somehow it’s the only thing that makes sense. His only option. “Like—” he shakes his head a little. “I can leave.”
“No, I should go,” Nursey stops him, holding up his hands. Nursey’s eyes are on the ground, fighting the sudden sting of tears. He doesn’t think he can look at Dex. “Tomorrow.” If it wasn’t already so late he’d say tonight. Dex has known this whole time and… what? Been stringing him along? “I can pack my things, and—”
“You don’t have to leave—”
“—call home,” Nursey carries on, ignoring the interruption. He doesn’t have too many things, really. He can shove it all in his trunk and deal with it when he gets to his parent’s place. “It’ll be fine. But I can’t—” he shakes his head, taking another step back. “I should go.”
“Nursey—” Dex calls after him but Nursey turns, quick, and rushes out of the room without saying anything else.
Even after his half-assed attempt at shoving all of his things into his bags, Nursey doesn’t really sleep.
The house is quieter with Chowder and Farmer gone so he can still hear Dex up and about for awhile. Some floorboards still creak, his footsteps still echo. Even once he hears Dex shut his door down the hall Nursey can’t let himself drift away.
He’ll have to call his parents in the morning.
They’ll be thrilled about him moving home while he figures his shit out but Nursey’s already dreading it. He loves them more than words but sometimes they’re suffocating. And it’s not like Nursey’s the most efficient dude. He already knows they’ll expect him to be more on top of his shit than he is.
So it’s looking for work in New York City then, probably. He could find work easily, he’s sure. Okay maybe not easily as the job market is shit and he literally received six rejection emails earlier today but at least there are a whole bunch of jobs out there. Nursey likes the city, genuinely. He’s not sure how he feels about being there long term but it’s a big place, he can find new areas to fall in love with.
He rolls on his side and looks out the window, his mattress groaning with every movement.
This place is so different from where he’s from. He’s gotten used to falling asleep to the waves; he’s terrified his brain will betray him and the sounds of the city will feel like bugs beneath his skin keeping him awake.
And then who is he supposed to text when he’s not sleeping, Chowder?
Okay, he could. Like, obviously Chowder would answer him and care about him and all that. But Nursey knows that he’ll want to text Dex. He wants to text Dex now. Ask him for advice, hear his take on all of this. Chowder offers great insight but he’s not who Nursey wants to talk to when he’s feeling like this.
He’d considered telling Chowder everything that happened earlier but decided against it at the last minute.
what’re you up to?
literally abt to fall asleep
Driving all DAY IS exhausting
just miss you and farms
He knows Dex loves him. Whether he’s put it in words or not, Dex is selective about his people. He shows his love in so many strange ways but it’s still love. Nursey knows he’s lucky to have what he does with Dex. But it’s not the same, and it doesn’t feel fair that he can love someone who loves him back without actually loving him.
Nursey just feels so stupid. He had so many opportunities to say something, so many chances to tell Dex how he felt before he dug himself deeper into this hole. At any point in time he could’ve asked Dex what was going on between them but he let himself get lost in this fantasy that they would end up together without voicing it. What an idiot he’d been to believe that things were falling into place for once.
He fights off his tears for as long as he can but not only is he stupid, he’s weak.
He cries for this perfect summer that he’s ruined in one night, for the friendship he’s sure he’s set to flames, for the soft hope he’d curated this whole time that maybe it would be different this time.
Still, he stifles himself. The walls in this house are thin and he can’t let Dex know how much this hurts.
It’s not as though it’s Dex’s fault after all. That’s the worst part of this. This relationship that they’ve created together is rare and wonderful, even if none of it was romantic. If anything he should be grateful. He should be thinking about what he still has with Dex, the things that can still grow, the beauty in the platonic.
But he can’t. Because everything was romantic for Nursey. And any thoughts about Dex in his future in whatever capacity it’s going to be already feels like it’s going to be too much.
Nursey doesn’t know what time it is when he finally falls asleep.
He sets an alarm for the sunrise. He wants to see it one last time before he goes, but when his alarm comes and his blurry eyes open, it’s fucking overcast.
Still, it doesn’t make sense to stay in bed. His eyes are puffy and he feels dehydrated so he reaches for his nearby water bottle and finishes it off. Nursey creeps through the house as quietly as he can to the bathroom so he can splash some water on his face and brush his teeth. He feels more like a person once he’s done.
So he fucked around and fell in love with his best friend who likes to hold his hand and sometimes share a bed but ultimately doesn’t feel the same. Shit happens. Nursey will be fine. He can have another breakdown once he gets home. Or at least once he’s a few hours from this house.
Nursey snags his Samwell sweatshirt from his room and heads outside. Despite the clouds the air is warm, but the beach breeze still makes him shiver a little.
God, he’s going to miss this.
How is he supposed to go from living with his best friends to living with his parents? From the rich salt soaked air to the crowded streets of the city? There are so many layers of heartbreak here that Nursey doesn’t even know what to grieve first.
And at the same time it feels like he doesn’t have a right to grieve at all. Both because it’s not like he and Dex were actually together, but also because Dex is actually grieving still.
Besides, it’s not like Nursey’s going to fall flat on his ass. He’ll have a roof over his head, food to eat, friends nearby. It’s going to be an adjustment but it doesn’t have to be for forever. Just until he can save up and figure it out.
“I’m surprised to see you awake.”
Too lost in his own thoughts, Nursey’s missed Dex creeping up on him. He winds his arms tighter around himself and keeps his gaze forward.
“I wanted to see the sunrise,” Nursey mutters, gesturing to the cloudy sky.
Dex gazes out across the ocean. “Well I guess you have to try again tomorrow,” he says quietly.
Nursey wants to. Not just for Dex but because he genuinely loves this place, so much, and saying goodbye to it is going to be difficult for a million reasons. But he has to protect his heart.
“You know I can’t,” Nursey murmurs. “I love it here. And you’re my best friend. But I have to leave.”
Whatever he has with Dex, it’s beautiful. It’s the most beautiful thing he thinks he’s ever shared with another person. But somewhere they missed a step and no matter how beautiful this thing between them has become, it means something different to the both of them. To have a friendship this deep makes him lucky beyond words but his heart aches and Nursey doesn’t know how to see it as that right now.
Dex doesn’t feel the same and that’s okay—or it will be. Nursey just needs to process. He needs to reconcile what he’s been doing with Dex with friendship because Nursey’s worried he doesn’t know how to talk to Dex anymore. He can’t figure out how they’re going to go from how they’ve been these past few months to where they were before all of this—Nursey hardly remembers the before. And he’s worried it will feel forced. Surface level once again after a month of intimacy that can’t be defined but was most certainly something special.
Maybe one day he can come back to this place and live in this house with Dex as friends but not right now. He can hardly even speak to Dex right now.
“I really don’t want to lose you,” Nursey carries on quietly. He can’t imagine not having Dex in his life, but this hurts. “I just need some time.”
“I don’t want to lose you either,” Dex murmurs.
Nursey shakes his head, “You won’t.” They both return to silence. “I’m sorry that I…” he gestures between them, trying to find a laugh. “I do love this place,” he tells Dex. He needs him to know that. “I don’t want you to think I’ve only been here because I was expecting…” he trails off.
“I just always picture you in a big city.”
Nursey didn’t expect to find a home on the coast like this either. But he’s always loved being in nature, immersing himself in the space around him, and it’s not surprising to him that he’s fallen in love with Maine. He’s never had the chance to live like this, it’s always been somewhere with more structure and less green. Seeing the ocean every day has awakened something deep inside of him he’d never known existed.
“That wasn’t how I wanted to say any of it,” Nursey eventually tries to explain. His feelings thrown out so carelessly, his love for here. He’s always better in writing. Not that it matters, in the end. “And you’re special to me,” he keeps going, but his throat is starting to feel thick and he knows he should stop but he has so much he wants to say. It’s not like whatever he can string together is going to change things. He already misses what he’s going to lose. “I’m just sorry,” he settles with.
“No,” Dex insists. “It’s not that.” He takes a deep breath, turning away with a small shake of his head before turning back. “It’s not you,” Dex says. His voice is quiet, barely audible over the crashing waves. “It’s just…” he motions his hands out toward the ocean. “I don’t know!” he bursts. “I don’t know,” he repeats, turning to look at Nursey head on. “I thought I was going to get this great job and move to New York and then my uncle died and I had to move up here instead and part of me feels like I’m not allowed to be here at all because of the whole queer thing and—!” Dex takes a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
Nursey was not expecting an outburst.
“And then there’s you…” Dex trails off, suddenly quiet. “And it’s so easy, and I still…” Nursey reaches for him and Dex meets him halfway, their hands tangling together in the middle. Something inside of Nursey settles at just being able to touch him again. “I don’t know,” he says again.
Hope floods Nursey in one beat of his heart.
“Will,” Nursey says gently.
“And I want to ask you what to do,” Dex carries on. “But I know you don’t know either. And every time I go to you it feels like I’m giving you too much to carry anyway and—”
“Never,” Nursey interrupts.
“It’s just so much,” Dex finishes, and it’s so achingly tired that Nursey feels it too. “And it’s all happening at once and I don’t know how to deal with any of it or even where to start. So with this…” he looks at Nursey, first where their hands are laced then slowly, up to meet his gaze. “It’s a lot for me.”
Nursey nods and loosens his hands a little but Dex tightens his hold.
This is a lot for Nursey, too. He’d been ready to jump in his car and drive to New York without looking back.
After thinking for a moment Nursey offers, “Do you like what we’ve been doing?” After Dex nods Nursey asks, “Do you think maybe it could be more than that one day?”
“Yeah,” Dex rasps.
“Okay,” Nursey rushes, breathless. “I can—that’s, Dex, I can do that.” He wants to do that. “If that’s—I mean,” his stomach is jittery. “If that’s something you’d be interested in. Just, letting this be this and figuring it out as we go because,” Nursey laughs a little, “you’re right. I don’t know, either.”
Dex exhales. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Nursey says evenly. Maybe life is a mess but that fact remains the same: Nursey wants to be with Dex. In whatever capacity he’ll allow it. “If that’s now or later and you’re telling me later and not never then yeah, I’m sure.”
Dex tugs him closer and with one hand Nursey reaches out, resting it on Dex’s hip. “I really want you here,” Dex murmurs. “Like—”
“Look at me,” Nursey stops him. Dex’s eyes open and he looks to Nursey. He knew this would be hard in unfamiliar ways but he can’t dance around an answer like this. “If it’s never that’s okay,” he says. If he sees them as nothing more than friends than Nursey needs to know. “Or if you don’t know that either, I mean…” Just as Nursey can’t blame Dex for his feelings, he also can’t force him to figure them out on the spot.
“It’s not never,” Dex says clearly. Nursey could cry with relief. “It’s not even later later,” Dex insists, quiet. “I want to do this with you. I’ve just got to figure some stuff out.”
Dex has asked if Nursey will wait, but Nursey needs to know too. “Are you sure?” he asks. “About me.”
“Of course I am.” He pulls back enough that he can look Nursey in the eyes. “You think I’d act like this with anyone?” The books on his bed, the holding hands, the warm kiss on his neck. Nursey didn’t make all of that up. Dex laughs a little, turning a shade of pink that Nursey immediately loves. “You remember I like, threw myself at you. Right?”
“Well I don’t know,” Nursey rushes, and Dex laughs again, warm in ways Nursey never could’ve imagined possible the night before. “Will—”
“It’s you, Derek,” Dex interrupts him.
It’s him. Dex wants to be with him. After all the goodbyes he let himself say last night Nursey doesn’t know how to move forward with this right away. But eventually he finds his ground, Dex anchoring him back to the moment by squeezing his hands.
“Can I kiss you?” Nursey whispers, knowing it sounds like a plea.
Dex answers him by gently closing the small distance between them. He cradles Nursey’s cheek with one of his hands while the other pulls him closer. All of this rings like a symphony in Nursey’s chest, rising alongside the waves, crashing in his lungs. And truly, Nursey could do this all day, but he pulls back after just a moment and lets Dex have his space. Until he’s ready.
They stay close, Dex with his forehead pressed to Nursey’s, the two of them trading breaths. “If you stayed,” Dex starts quietly, “would you be happy? Outside of us?”
Nursey nods. “I already am,” he answers.
Of course being here is better because Dex is here too, but Nursey loves this place. The locals remember his name when he starts making regular appearances. His inspiration has been buzzing out of control and he feels like he could harness it into words. Every single night the ocean sings him to sleep.
“Then you should stay,” Dex whispers.
It doesn’t matter that the sun isn’t really coming up, this morning feels particularly bright. “Okay,” Nursey agrees. Easy. This is what he wants. “I’ll stay.”
And they’ll figure it out together, however it comes. Nursey knows it’s going to be a mess but he knows with Dex it’ll be worth it. Day by day, brick by brick, the two of them in this big house on the coast of Maine. And whenever Dex is ready for whatever’s next, Nursey’ll be waiting, savoring every magic moment in the middle just as he always would.
“I made coffee,” Dex murmurs against Nursey’s lips. The laugh that Nursey exhales is more a breath than anything.
He kisses Dex again and to feel him smile against his mouth has Nursey feeling dizzy.
“You always do.”
The days after their sunrise on the beach aren’t easy.
Nursey always feels like he’s overstepping, unsure if he’s acting differently or if he should be acting differently or if he just thinks he’s acting differently. Dex keeps to himself a little more and Nursey gives him the space, so they float in their own sort of limbo.
Nursey goes back to living his life.
He reaches out to Meg to see if they can talk and searches more locally for jobs instead of the city and on Idealist and takes himself into town just because he wants to. If he’s staying he wants to be sure that it’s not just for Dex, that the love he feels for this place is real and true. That he has a support system here.
He and Meg meet up at the bookstore and he’s almost nervous to see her, but she smiles when he enters and his nerves are gone. They browse the books for a little bit, both of them picking up something new, before they decide to meet somewhere on the beach to smoke. Both of them drive to the same lighthouse and then Nursey climbs into her car.
They’ve smoked most of the joint before Meg finally says, “You could’ve said you were into men.” She looks him in the eye as she says it. “Like, that’s chill.”
“Can’t help but worry sometimes,” Nursey admits. After a moment he adds, “I’m into women too?”
“Cool.” She smiles. “How’s being in love with your best friend working out?” Meg asks.
“I don’t know, it’s messy.”
He gives her an abbreviated version of what happened but talks more about their time after the confession on the beach. Nursey made it very clear how he felt so he figures Dex will say something if anything’s changed, right? He wants to stop second guessing himself. There’s still a pot of coffee every morning. Just the other night Dex fell asleep against Nursey’s shoulder on the couch. But he’s anxious, and he’s trying not to read into Dex pulling back.
“Maybe you need to have another talk,” Meg offers.
Nursey’s tired of talking, he wants it to be easy again. “Am I being paranoid?” Nursey asks. “He’d say something.”
Meg shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe. I don’t know him.”
“Maybe I can’t do this figure it out as you go, thing,” Nursey murmurs.
“I don’t know if I could,” she admits. They sit with that for a while, smoking more of the joint, before Nursey flips the script and asks her more about her own love life. Not everything has to be about Dex.
They smoke for a while and Nursey gets way too stoned to drive so Meg drops him back off at Maple Street. Dex’s car is there when they get there and so is another, which makes Nursey nervous.
“You could come in,” Nursey offers.
Meg frowns at the extra car. “Who’s here?”
“I don’t know.” It’s late afternoon, it could be anyone.
“Okay.” She climbs out of her car with him and they enter together. Nursey’s still pretty high so it’s nice to have her as a support when it comes to walking. “What’s your boy’s name again? Not Dex.”
“Will,” Nursey echoes quietly. He wants to smile but the pot (and the car) has made his anxiety wonky. “And I might love him,” Nursey warbles before they enter. “But it’s still hard right now.”
Meg nods in understanding. In they go, following the sound of laughter and voices onto the back porch.
It’s Home Depot Chad and his girlfriend on one couch and Dex on the other.
“Hey,” Dex greets softly.
Nursey uses the wall to stand more and less of Meg. “Hi,” he returns. “Home Depot Chad,” he says with a nod. “Jessica?”
“Hi Derek,” Jessica returns with a smile.
“We had to leave Derek’s car at the lighthouse,” Meg explains, letting Nursey use the door frame even more. “Had a little too much to smoke.”
Dex laughs and the sound of it is so goddamn calming that Nusey almost buckles to his knees. “Of course,” Dex says. “Here, one sec.” Nursey and Meg peel back inside and Dex leaves his friends on the porch to follow them. “Hi,” Dex greets, hand on Nursey’s waist and the other on his shoulder. “You okay?”
“Really high,” Nursey murmurs back. “Miss you.”
Dex looks over at Meg before back to Nursey. “Thanks for bringing him home,” he says lightly, and Meg nods. “The lighthouse on Fisher or the lighthouse on Perry?”
“The one on Perry,” she answers.
“We can go get it later. You’re welcome to stay,” he adds, gesturing to the porch.
Meg looks to Nursey then back to the porch. “Yeah okay.” She heads outside with a wink and a smile, giving them a little bit of space, and Nursey turns more into Dex’s arms.
“Oh, you’re really high, huh?” Dex asks.
Dex chuckles and tugs him closer, resting his chin on Nursey’s shoulder as he wraps his arms around him. “I’ve had some beer,” Dex admits.
Nursey laughs, pulling back so he can look at him. Dex’s cheeks are flushed but he’s smiling brightly and it makes Nursey want to smile too. “I miss you,” Nursey says again, a little louder than before. He wants Dex to acknowledge that.
“Yeah,” he answers. Nursey drops his gaze, and his smile, but Dex cups his cheek. “We should talk tonight,” he adds.
Nursey ends up next to Meg on one of the couches while Dex is closer to Chad and Jessica, but it turns out Jessica and Meg went to elementary school together so it’s easy conversation between all of them.
“Well my bonfire thing is tomorrow,” Jessica says toward the end of the night. “You’re all coming?” They all agree that they’re coming before she says, “You should do something here, Will.”
“Yeah, you really should,” Chad agrees. “Your firepit is fucking huge, and the house looks killer.”
“We worked hard on it this summer,” Dex says, not exactly agreeing that he should host something but not putting it down either. Which means he can probably be swayed.
“It would be fun,” Nursey says. “You should show the house off to our six friends.”
They start listing people who could be invited and it turns out, between the two of them, Nursey and Dex actually have a decent number of people who might be considered friends that they could invite. A nice end of summer thing, maybe. They haven’t had a fire since Chowder and Farmer left and it would be weirdly symbolic, Nursey thinks, to do their next one with a new circle of people.
Nursey gets sleepier as the evening drags on and soon enough, everyone’s gone. Meg blows Nursey a kiss and Jessica insists on hugging them both and they all agree to see each other tomorrow. Nursey keeps to the porch while Dex walks them all out to their cars. The waves sound loud tonight and Nursey closes his eyes to let himself drift away with it. At times he forgets that here he’s cradled by the ocean.
Eventually Dex returns and settles on the couch beside Nursey. It takes a moment but soon his hand finds Nursey’s too and he laces their fingers together carefully. With a sigh Nursey rests his head against Dex’s shoulder, snuggling closer just a little.
A declaration without a lot of follow through makes this moment bittersweet. Even more so because Dex has been more distant than Nursey had been anticipating after their morning on the beach.
“You’ve been pulling away,” Nursey says when Dex starts rubbing his thumb over Nursey’s knuckle. He didn’t expect them to fall into something more serious immediately but it’s been days now without anything. He has to think of it as a joke to be able to ask, “Did you change your mind?”
“No,” Dex answers at once.
It does nothing to stop the clenching of Nursey’s chest. He holds Dex’s hand a little tighter. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Dex insists.
Even just thinking it makes Nursey anxious, but he can’t do this with Dex again. “Would you tell me if you had regrets?”
“I don’t have any regrets,” Dex says firmly.
“You’ve been pulling away,” Nursey says another time, quiet. When he looks up he finds that Dex’s hands are focused on where their hands are laced. “Is it me? I’m too much?”
“This?” Nursey pushes, tugging Dex’s hands toward him a little bit. Still undefined, of course they can still shatter back into nothing. A few days with a whispered promise of a maybe could fade into the background if that’s how Dex felt. “If you don’t want to do this—”
“I do,” Dex stops him. “I want to be with you, Derek. It isn’t this.”
Nursey feels stupid for feeling so afraid, but he can’t help it. When he told Dex how he felt and Dex didn’t feel the same that was one thing, but for Dex to realize Nursey wasn’t what he wanted after saying he did was something else. To hear Dex say it so easily, so sure. I want to be with you. It eases most of the weight in Nursey’s chest.
“Would you tell me?” Nursey asks again. Dex pulling away has only left Nursey to speculate. Of course he’s going to think the problem lies between them.
“Yeah,” Dex exhales, a little sharp. “But you don’t need to worry about that.” Another breath easier to breathe. He must change somehow because Dex lets go of one hand and reaches up to cup his cheek. “I’m sorry…” he starts slowly. “For a lot of things. I know I’m not great at this but I’m trying to be better.” For you, Dex doesn’t say, but Nursey hears it. “I hate that I made you unsure.”
Nursey drops his gaze, surprised at Dex’s words. “It’s…”
“It’s shit,” Dex eventually says. He tugs Nursey’s chin up to get him to look at him. “I can’t imagine if you had done that to me. I hate that I did that to you.”
Nursey shakes his head, looking down again. “It was one night,” he murmurs.
“It doesn’t matter. It was a long night.”
Nursey exhales slowly. “I’m just still… a little afraid,” he whispers. “You’ll realize you don’t want this.”
Dex lifts his other hand to Nursey’s other cheek. “Please trust me when I say I want this.” Nursey’s smile is involuntary. When Dex kisses him, it’s gentle. Not enough to forever end the bubble of anxiety about all of this but enough for now. Their first kiss in days. “You’re the one thing I’m sure about, Derek,” he murmurs. “When I’m with you…” he trails off and Nursey looks back up and into his eyes.
But Nursey needs to hear it, those words that Dex might still be too unsure to say. “When you’re with me what?” he presses.
“I feel more sure of myself,” Dex answers, low. “And more like the version of myself that I actually want to be.”
Nursey’s lungs feel shallow. “I don’t know if I can do day by day,” he rasps. “Because you can say that, and I still…” He feels guilty saying this. Nursey doesn’t want to rush Dex, and more than anything he wants this to work. But he needs to be honest and fight off the voice in his head that keeps telling him Dex will flee the first chance he gets. “I know I said I could, but—”
“No, you shouldn’t have to wait for me to get my shit together.”
“I mean I want to,” Nursey stresses.
Dex kisses him again, just as gently as before. “So let’s…” he trails off. “I mean. Fuck. We’re already basically dating, right?”
“Will,” Nursey murmurs.
Dex pulls back and Nursey searches his eyes for signs of hesitation. Any glimpse that he’s saying this not because he’s ready but because he feels tricked into it. But Dex’s eyes are clear and sure and Nursey feels like his knees are going to give.
“I don’t want to have to think about it when Home Depot Chad asks me who you are,” Dex carries on. “I want to call you my boyfriend.”
Nursey’s smile returns without thought. “Did he ask tonight?”
“What’d you say?”
“That we were figuring it out.” Nursey wants to kiss him again. Longer. Deeper. His eyes drift to Dex’s mouth. “I reached out to that one job,” Dex suddenly bursts. Nursey pulls back a little bit farther while Dex looks down again. “The one I got before all of this happened.”
“Just to see,” he murmurs. “And…” Dex looks back up. “They said it’s a standing offer.”
Nursey eases back a little farther. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I explained the circumstances and they said that they’ll hold my resume for the next year. All I have to do is reach out when I’m ready and they’ll make it work because they want me.”
Nursey doesn’t completely understand. “The next year.”
“That’s why—I…” he trails off. “That’s why I’m still… why this is still hard,” Dex tries to explain. “I still don’t know what I want to do, Derek,” Dex tells him quietly. “I don’t know if I want roots here or if I’d rather chase that job and let Davey handle all of this, and I don’t know how us moves into whatever’s next either because I don’t know what that is yet.”
Nursey wonders how long he’s been sitting on this. Maybe since the night they went to The Pizza Castle, maybe Dex had wanted to talk about it then and gotten distracted. All the gentle reminders that Nursey could still move home, that he still hadn’t settled in completely.
His vision of what’s next looks insanely different in only an instant. But Dex is still there.
“I think it’d be easier to figure out if we defined us a little more,” Nursey whispers.
“Yeah,” Dex agrees, nodding. “But then I was worried you’d be mad about the job thing, and not want to—”
“I’m definitely not mad about the job thing,” Nursey stops him. “And I never not want to anything with you. Just talk to me.”
Dex nods slowly before taking a deep breath. “I can’t stay here,” he says. “Not forever. Being here…” he gestures to the house. “It makes me miss my uncle. It makes grieving harder. I want to restore this place and get some of it remodeled but I don’t…” he trails off.
“So we’re not here forever,” Nursey says. “That’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”
Dex’s eyes drop down to Nursey’s mouth. “Is this thing with you really just going to be this easy?” Dex rasps. “Like—that’s so fucking scary, Nurse. And—what do you want to do job wise? It’s just that there’s a lot to figure out and—”
“We’re having a lot of conversations at the same time,” Nursey stops him. “And I want to have all of them but could we start with the us?”
“The us,” Dex echoes. He cups Nursey’s cheek and draws him in. “You’re my partner,” he exhales. On the ice, off. Today, tomorrow. Nursey presses in for another kiss. “I’m in this.”
A title. Not something to be figured out, not a day by day whim until it makes more sense. A promise between the both of them that this is something they’ll work on together because they’ll be together.
“Is it too much?” Nursey whispers. He didn’t want to force Dex into this before he was ready.
“It’s not too much,” Dex answers.
The security of it is intoxicating. “Partner,” he murmurs. Dex drags him in for another kiss, smiling when they part. “I wanna tell Chowder and Farmer?” he wonders, still afraid of pushing boundaries.
But Dex nods into the next kiss, drawing Nursey in like he’s realized what’s been said between them. Dex grows urgent then, his hands cupping both of Nursey’s cheeks to pull him deeper. Once they’re close enough Nursey leans over him, pressing Dex down onto the couch. It’s a tiny couch and not the most comfortable position but Dex is still smiling and Nursey’s chest aches with heat as he kisses him back. His hands wander, along Dex’s arms, down his back. Nursey gets to do this.
“Stay with me tonight?” Dex rushes.
Dex laughs, “It’s like, 9. We need to eat dinner or something.”
Nursey kisses him again. “So now,” he repeats, and Dex’s answering laugh is good enough for him.
After, in bed, Nursey refuses to let himself grow afraid again.
“We have more to talk about,” Nursey murmurs. Dex traces his finger down Nursey’s chest and nods.
So they talk about it. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth because this is still new and scary but big but they manage, whispering their dreams of what their future looks like well into the night. Ideal jobs. Ideal places. Ideal living arrangement.
“I’m not ready to say goodbye yet,” Dex says at one point, talking about the home that Nursey’s fallen in love with on the coast, “but winters are cold here, Derek. And you hate the cold.”
Nursey agrees that he hates the cold. “How’re you feeling about things with your uncle in general?” he asks.
“I still have some stuff to work through,” Dex admits. “But I don’t want to look into therapy until I know where I’m settling for a bit.”
Even as they work it out now Nursey knows it’s not going to fall into place as easily as it did for some of their friends. Maybe citywise they can both be in New York for a bit but Nursey doesn’t know if that’s where he wants to stay. And truthfully, he’s fallen in love with this small town in Maine. He knows he could easily pack up and say goodbye, but there are places like this all over. What if he just found another one? Would Dex follow, or let him wander?
Part of the issue is that Nursey still doesn’t know what he wants to do either, where he wants to be. Maybe even less of an idea now than before. But at least lying here with Dex feels like a start to the home he wants to build.
The sun is out in the morning, but Dex is still in bed beside him. They’re wound together in a way that’s probably comfortable for Dex but not super comfortable for Nursey. He shifts and Dex moves a little, allowing him the space to free his trapped arm before dropping his hand down on Nursey’s waist and pulling him in.
“In bed long after the sunrise,” Nursey murmurs in reprimand as he nuzzling closer. “Probably no coffee started yet.”
“You’re a bad influence on me,” Dex responds.
“Mmm, partner,” Nursey exhales, sleepy.
“Is that weird?” Dex asks. “Boyfriend is fine too?”
“I think it’s sexy. You’re my partner,” Nursey purrs. “Yeehaw.”
Dex laughs and tries to wiggle away from him. “I hate you so much,” he says as Nursey leans over him and peppers his face with kisses. Eventually Dex turns back to kiss him and Nursey welcomes it with a hum, morning breath ignored. They make out for a little bit to pass the time, Nursey’s tongue in Dex’s mouth, Dex’s hands against Nursey’s back, before Dex pulls back with a slurred, “I don’t.”
Nursey’s next kiss is quick. “Don’t?”
“Hate you,” Dex murmurs.
Nursey can’t help but smile as he pulls back. “I know.”
Dex drops his head backwards in his pillows. “But I do.” He takes a deep breath. “Love you?” Nursey freezes, his heart picking up speed while everything else around stops. Dex’s eyes are closed as he rushes, “That’s why I know we can figure this out together.”
Whether Nursey wants to go back to New York or not. Whether they stay in Maine a little longer or have Davey come sooner. Whether they have to be apart for a little bit or a long bit, whether Nursey wants to go back to school, whether Dex wants to stay in the city.
They’ll figure it out.
“Yeah,” Nursey exhales, throat thick. “We will.” Dex still hasn’t opened his eyes. “And I love you too.”
Dex’s eyes fly open and he lets out a deep breath. “Cool. Cool, yeah. Great.” Nursey grins again and leans back in to kiss some more.
“Like that wasn’t obvious.”
“Nice to hear,” Dex murmurs.
“I literally told you I was in love with you,” Nursey says with a laugh. Dex turns a shade of red that’s one of Nursey’s favorites. “That’s what started all of this.”
“Still nice to hear.”
Later, they’ll get out of bed and call Chowder and Farmer, who will act surprised even though they’ve both known for some time that it would end this way. They’ll make coffee and sit on the porch and welcome in the morning before trying to figure out if they should bring anything to Jessica’s party. Nursey’ll spend some time writing, Dex will rifle through some old photo albums. Past that, neither of them are entirely sure.
Maybe Maine, maybe New York, maybe somewhere new.
But for now, they’ll stay in bed a little longer.