Sieger dipped a hand into the cool river water and drew his hand across the surface, leaving a trail of ripples that distorted the reflection of the summer trees and cloudless sky. Birds sang overhead. A pale butterfly flew and landed onto the greenery nearby. Marc played his guitar and sung lyrics to a song so ridiculous Sieger turned to look up at him with eyebrows drawn together in amused perplexity.
Oh Sieger, Sieger, how do you make me so eager?
Oh Sieger, don’t you know you make life less bleaker?
Oh Sieger, don’t you know that I am the seeker
Of your heart and the whole of your demeanor?
Marc halted, a grin on his face. “Masterpiece, isn’t it?”
“Sure.” Sieger smiled and shook his head. He reached again into the river and flicked the water at Marc.
Marc jumped back from the water droplets, laughing. He held out the guitar. “Do you want to try playing?”
Sieger hesitated. He’d never been musically inclined, but he carefully took the guitar from Marc’s hands and held it awkwardly. He tried to get it into the natural position he’d seen Marc in only a second ago. It didn’t work. He felt clumsy and embarrassed.
Marc sat down behind him and reached his arms around, placing his fingers over Sieger’s to help. “Here. Place your left hand up here. Yes, like that. Fingers like this. And…” Carefully, he held Sieger’s hand and moved it so Sieger’s fingers strummed out a bright, happy chord.
Sieger let out a sound of delighted surprise. He looked at Marc.
Marc turned his head, gaze meeting Sieger’s eyes, a smile on his face.
Sieger leaned forward to close the distance between them for a kiss. It wasn’t a quick peck and it wasn’t meant to be. Sieger became vaguely aware of an ache in his neck, but he didn’t care enough to pull away, although he made sure to keep his hold on Marc’s guitar. He felt Marc’s fingers, careful on his cheek, different from the intense response of his lips.
A sound startled Sieger, but given his lack of reaction, Marc didn’t seem to have heard. It was only when the sound didn’t fade away and Sieger listened close that he realized it was the sound of a ringtone. He pulled away. “Is that your phone?”
Marc blinked at him before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell phone, which had continued stubbornly ringing. He answered it, still more than a little bit out-of-breath. “Hello?”
Sieger turned back to the guitar, repositioning his fingers on the neck of the guitar and trying out different chords.
“Now? Okay… Alright. I understand. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be there as fast as I can. Okay… Okay.” Marc hung up the phone. His lips were slightly pursed.
“What’s wrong?” Sieger asked.
Marc fell back against the grass, exhaling out a breath. “I have to go help out. There’s a lot of customers today and one of the employees had a family emergency, so my mom’s frantic for another pair of hands.” He got to his feet, an apologetic expression on his face.
Sieger stood up and handed Marc his guitar. “How long does she need you?”
Marc kneeled down to place his guitar back in its case. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “maybe until the number of customers die down, but maybe until closing time and that’s at seven.”
“I wouldn’t mind waiting,” Sieger said.
Marc glanced up at him. “Really?”
When Marc stood up and kissed him, Sieger closed his eyes. He wanted this moment to last forever.
Marc pulled back, but not away. His voice came softly from next to Sieger’s ear. “Let’s go.”
Marc’s mother had not been exaggerating. The nice weather had brought many people to the ice cream shop, hungry for ice cream and out to enjoy the warm day.
Sieger followed after Marc, gripping the handlebars of his bike and feeling self-conscious as customers looked up. Some called out greetings to Marc. Marc smiled back at them, waving in response, and when Marc glanced back at him, Sieger quickly gave him a small smile.
They leaned their bikes at the side of the ice cream shop, beneath the shade of a tree. Marc reached for his hand and entwined his fingers between Sieger’s. Sieger flushed with shyness, but he had to keep from smiling too widely.
They entered the shop. Marc’s mom stood behind the counter and he called out to her. A look of relief filled her face when she caught sight of him. “I’ll be down to help in a minute!” Marc told her.
She nodded, hurriedly turning to help the next customer in line.
Marc led Sieger up the stairs to the living space above the shop. Sieger looked in the direction of Marc’s bedroom door. He was still pleased with the fact that he knew where it was.
Marc’s room was messier than it had been the last time Sieger had been there. Sheets of music were spilled on the floor, which Marc kicked out of the way. He took off his guitar case and set it on his unmade bed, moving some of the strewn-about clothes into the hamper. “Sorry, I don’t have anything fun for you to do.”
“It’s alright,” Sieger assured him. “I’ll be fine.”
“Feel free to use the TV or the kitchen,” Marc said. “If you want, you can come down for ice cream. It’ll be on the house.”
Sieger nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”
Marc gave him a smile, looking very much like he wanted to stay, but after a quick smooch, he made his way out of the room, pausing to turn and blow Sieger a farewell kiss.
Sieger laughed and gave Marc a little wave. He stood for a moment after Marc left, shifting from foot-to-foot and glancing around at Marc’s posters. The majority of them were of musicians and runners, and there were drawings of Neeltje’s and family photos scattered about, too.
Casually, Sieger glanced across what laid on the wall beside Marc’s pillow.
Then, he did a double-take. It was a photo of him and Marc, taken at the celebration that had taken place the day after the relay win, after the night Sieger had managed to patch up the wounds he’d given Marc. Stef had volunteered to take it for them. Sieger had his own copy that he kept safely tucked in his sock drawer. He knew he shouldn’t be surprised to see that Marc had one of his own, but he couldn’t help but stare in disbelief. How long had it been there? He had never noticed it before.
Sieger sat down on the bed, unable to look away from the photograph.
In it, the track lay out behind them and the sun shone down brightly. While Marc looked right towards the camera, Sieger’s gaze was turned away and up at Marc, a smile on his face. Marc had an arm around his shoulders and a wide grin on his face. It was a smile that Sieger had memorized after the many times he had looked at the photo, had grown so familiar to in reality, but would never tire of. Marc’s smile was beautiful in the everlasting way of trees, sturdy and alive and genuine.
Sieger swallowed down a lump in his throat. His eyes fell briefly downwards and he saw the jacket lying near his knee. He picked it up, took it in his hands, and—heart thudding in embarrassment and exhilaration—held it up to his nose. He could smell the scent of sweat and hard work, grass and summer. There was a faint undertone of Adidas cologne.
“What are you doing?”
Sieger flinched and dropped Marc’s jacket like it was on fire.
Neeltje was standing in the doorway. She looked at him with curious eyes and held a purple hula hoop in her hands.
“I’m-I’m,” Sieger stammered. Quickly, he tried to come up with an excuse. “I’m checking to see if Marc’s clothes are stinky.”
“Oooooh.” Neeltje stretched out the sound in understanding. She glanced around herself and held a hand up beside her mouth. In a stage-whisper, she said, “Marc is really lazy. Mommy’s always telling him to do his laundry.” She paused, eyes widening. “But don’t tell him I told you that!”
Sieger smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”
“Promise?” Neeltje asked.
Sieger nodded. “I promise.”
Neeltje scampered off.
Sieger let out a sigh of relief. He ran his hand over Marc’s jacket. He wanted to put it on, but he didn’t know how he would be able to explain that if Neeltje came back. Slowly, he lay onto the bed, rested his head on the pillow, and lifted the jacket up to his chin. He faced the photograph of him with Marc. The thought that it was the last thing Marc sometimes saw before sleeping and the first thing he saw after waking made something in him flutter.
He curled up on himself until his knees touched the wall. Outside, he could hear the sound of laughter. Birds chirped from the skies and branches. The sunshine coming through the window warmed the room. He closed his eyes, shifting part of the jacket over his shoulder and burying his nose into it. He breathed in this intoxicating, comforting part of Marc, his Marc. All was right with the world.
A sensation against his cheek awoke Sieger. Sleepily, he cracked open his eyes and squinted into the dimness of the room. It was darker than before. Maybe. He wasn’t sure he trusted his tired vision. He felt the sensation again at his neck and knew it was Marc.
Sieger turned his head, about to say something, but Marc gently kissed him before lying down next to him. He pressed his chest to Sieger’s back. “Sorry it was a while,” he said, quietly. “Did you get bored?”
Sieger shivered as Marc’s arm slipped over his waist. It took him a second to register the question. “No, no, I was fine.” He burrowed his face into the jacket. “I had this.”
Sieger hesitated, awake enough now to realize. He blushed. “…Your jacket,” he murmured.
He heard Marc chuckle softly and braced himself for a reply, but Marc only kissed the back of his neck and chuckled again. He sounded happy.
Sieger smiled to himself. He blamed his sleepiness for the next words that came out of his mouth, but there was also the fact that with Marc, he wanted to be honest. “I’ve always wanted to fall asleep in your arms,” he confessed.
“Like this?” Marc asked.
Sieger pondered over the moment. This moment with the nearing twilight, with Marc’s guitar case at their feet, with Marc’s jacket in his hands, with the surrounding, covered walls, and—most importantly—with that photograph of them that hung only a breath away. He felt Marc settle comfortably against the outline of him. He closed his eyes and nodded to himself, contented. “Like this.”