Marc sits across from Sieg with his ice-cream cone and a wicked laugh. Sieg’s kicking him under the table, the man behind the counter is throwing them annoyed looks and Sieg wonders how much more the poor guy can take before he kicks Sieger out of here for good. Before he puts a photo of Sieger on the window and a heading underneath, verboden.
Sieg probably deserves it. “Stop,” he tells Marc for the fifth time in as many minutes, and Marc is still laughing.
“Ice-cream,” he says, grinning. “My parents own a café that sells sorbet, idiot.”
“You could have had something else!” Sieg protests, feeling his cheeks burn a little. The look in Marc’s eyes contradicts his teasing; gazing at Sieg like he’s drinking him in, like his eyes can’t decide where to look. They sparkle.
“Is this a date?” Marc eventually asks, because apparently watching Sieg squirm is fun for him. Sieg huffs, and kicks Marc again, preferring to play with his napkin than to look him in the eye. Sieg’s not like this, not forward or obvious. He doesn’t know how to say, will you go on a date, or I’m not afraid of this any more, or I don’t care if people look at us and maybe think, you really like that guy, huh? Because it’s true.
“I don’t know,” he says, because he’s not sure of anything any more. He hasn’t been since he met Marc, and he’s only now realising that it’s okay. That he doesn’t need to be. “Would that be okay?”
Marc’s wicked laughter is back again, and when their feet hit this time it’s because he’s curling his ankle around Sieg’s. He puts a hand out too, a finger touching Sieg’s wrist, and he says, “It’s good,” and he takes a bite of his ice-cream, adding, “It’s really good.”
Sieg’s wet through when he gets home from school, dumping his bike by the back door and quickly tumbling into the house. The rain was sudden, and heavy, and it had been too late to call dad; left slipping in the mess his shoes leave, peeling his socks off like second skin.
Summer feels like so long ago.
“Hallo?” he calls out, wandering into the kitchen. There’s a loaf of bread open and hagelslag spilled all over the table, but the house is abandoned, the TV on with the volume set to low. It’s only when he hears Eddy’s twinkling laughter from somewhere outside he realises he’s not alone.
“Hallo?” he calls again through the rain, the screen door slightly ajar and water getting into his eyes. When it’s not Eddy but Marc who comes into view, Sieg has a fleeting moment of panic. He’s grinning, though, waving him in, saying something Sieg can’t hear. Eddy laughs again.
“What are you doing here?” Sieg calls as he runs out, bare feet splashing in the rain that’s collected across the pavement.
“Eddy’s bike’s not working,” Marc tells him when he gets inside the garage, reaching for Sieg’s hand.
Sieg’s eyes flicker to where Eddy’s hunched over, wary and worried and wondering if this is real; if maybe he fell off his bike and it’s all some weird, concussion induced dream. Marc notices Sieg’s cautious look and drops his arm; he’d drawn the line at secrecy but he still allows Sieg some discretion.
“When you weren’t here I thought I’d stay and help out.”
“You know about bikes?”
“He knows how to hand me tools,” Eddy says, pointedly, but he’s grinning at them, ordering Marc to pass him something Sieger's never even heard of before. Sieg stands there, confused and out of step, his brother and his boyfriend - if that’s what they were, they hadn’t really talked about it - acting like old friends, acting like there wasn’t an elephant in the room waving a rainbow flag.
Eddy had been so bothered at the start, angry and revolted, and Sieg still expected that version of his brother. He still expected to wake up from all this, lonely and alone.
“Sieg,” Eddy says, breaking him from his reverie, and when he looks over Eddy’s rolling his eyes at him, still smiling. “How do you put up with him?” he asks Marc, and Marc laughs, holding out his hand again. Sieg steps over to join them.
They’re huddled together on Marc’s bed, Marc’s back to the wall and Sieg’s back to Marc’s chest. The guitar sits light and awkward in Sieg’s lap, Marc’s hands coming around to position Sieg’s fingers on the fret board. He’d said teach me a song, and Marc had laughed at him, teasing, but here they were. Sieg having his way, as usual [Marc letting him.]
“There,” Marc says softly, breath warm at Sieg’s ear, and Sieg’s unable to hold back a small snigger, imagining how they must look. Marc elbows him. “Hey, pay attention.”
“Yes, sir,” Sieg teases, but he does, watching Marc’s hands curl over his own, trying to remember what part he’s supposed to be playing in this. It’s hard to focus with the way Marc’s body curls around him, the safe cover of those arms, and legs. He knows they’re his to have, sure, but it’s times like these when he really knows, when he can press down on those notions that Marc’s not really his, that Marc doesn’t want Sieg like Sieg wants him.
“Now strum,” Marc says, demonstrating, and a not so perfect sound rings out, wonky but distinct. Sieg feels a little thrill.
“Hey, I did it!”
Marc laughs, a little, says, “I guess,” with a pinch to Sieger’s side. Sieg demands another attempt, and he sits there and strums the same stupid chord for so long he starts to forget if he really wants to learn the guitar or if he just wants to keep Marc this close as long as he can.
When he’s had enough he lets his head fall back on Marc’s shoulder and asks him gently, quietly, “Play something.”
Marc’s breath is warm on Sieg’s neck when he says, “Okay,” warmer still when he starts to sing to him. It’s melodic, something stupid and sweet about his heart, filling up until it spills over.
Sieg turns his head for a kiss, knowing for sure it’s a beat he can follow.
Sieg watched water drops slip-slide down Marc’s body. Through freckles and moles, a whole universe of stars. He watched it fly off the hair flicked from his face, or how it cupped in the hollow of his throat as he lay spread out on the raft.
He watched Marc’s neck work when he was drinking from his water bottle, and the graze of his thumb across his mouth, catching up what was left. He watched Marc dry his hand on his shorts, watched the darkening mark as it faded.
He watched until Marc was right there, soaking wet, their arms and hands and fingers together like ripples along the surface. Marc came in for a kiss, short and unsure, and Sieg went back in for another.
His lips were cool, and Sieg’s body shook and he slid down into the depths of the water.
He was going down, dark and enveloped, but there was nowhere to hide any more.
One day they fight about nothing that turns into something, with Marc shouting, “You’re stupid, you don’t understand,” and Sieg calling him klootzak, shoving until he shoves back. Marc doesn’t like to be physical, unless it’s for fun; is never rough without laughter, or tough without love. Marc likes words, and solutions, he likes to put everything on the table so it’s clear. Sieg likes to get loud, and angry. He likes pushing things until they’re out of his way.
When Marc leaves, it takes Sieg a few more laboured breaths to go after him. He knows why they’re fighting, but he doesn’t know what for. He doesn’t know how they can make each other so crazy.
“Are we breaking up?” he demands to know, meeting Marc out the front of his house. Marc huffs at him and shakes his head and throws his bag on the ground without care.
“No, Sieg, don’t be…”
“I didn’t mean to say - you’re not stupid,” he says, but it doesn’t sound like sorry, leading Sieg through the house and upstairs to his bedroom. It’s quiet when Neeltje isn't around, or the shop is closed, just the soft creak of doors and the distant hum of the rest of the world. Everything else feels so far away whenever he’s alone with Marc.
“Can we just forget it - forget whatever and just - ”
“No,” Marc says, annoyed, and they stand in the middle of his room. “You can’t just say sorry every time you do something that makes me angry, and we can’t just fight and say shitty things and - ”
“I know, you’re right,” Sieg agrees, still torn up with something sour, but reaching for Marc sweetly, tangling his fingers in the front of Marc’s jumper, and saying gently, “I shouldn’t have called you a klootzak, you’re not a klootzak, I’m a klootzak, the world is a klootzak, and, and I like you a lot.”
Marc’s huffing, and laughing, and now when he shoves it is with laughter, step by step and pressing Sieg’s back against the wall. Sieg tilts his head for the kiss he knows is coming, opens his mouth for Marc, and everything is nothing except Marc’s thumb at the skin of his belly and Sieg’s hand so tight he might never get it back.
There’s a portrait hanging in the living room, the four of them hand drawn by some cousin Sieg never sees anymore. It had been a big deal to his mum, apparently, at least that’s what his dad says; and she liked that sort of thing. She liked to take photos and make albums and cherish memories.
They’d been lucky for that, in the end.
“How old were you?” Marc asks, touching at the frame with a fingertip. Sieg’s sprawled on the couch, watching him, amazed at how someone can look around his home with such wonder. What does Marc see that Sieg doesn’t?
“Seven, or eight maybe?” Sieg says, scrunching up his face trying to remember. “I was at school, it was during the holidays.”
“Neeltje would never sit still long enough.”
Sieg laughs, a little huff. “No, they drew from a photo.”
“Oh,” he turns his head to give Sieg a little smile. “What were you doing that day?”
They were at the beach. Eddy was hassling Dad about racing the length of the foreshore, and Sieg was burying his mum in the sand while she read one of those romance novels she liked so much. They’d swam and made sandcastles and had lunch; and Mum asked a passer by to take their photo. Their family had never been perfect, but that day they’d come pretty close.
“We were at the beach,” is all Sieg says, and Marc just gives him a little nod of understanding. Sometimes he understands more about Sieg than Sieg understands himself.
When the front door crashes open Sieg is getting to his feet without thinking and Marc’s turning away from the portrait, folding his arms. It’s Sieg’s dad, back from work, dropping all his things on the table and flickering that wary glance he reserves only for Marc.
“Hi, boys,” he says gently, heading for the kettle. “Good day?”
“Yes, thank you,” Marc says first, offering the polite I am in your home and respect your boundaries smile. Dad had caught them kissing against the back door last time, and Sieg wonders if he’s going to carry that around for much longer. Dad probably will.
“Yeah,” Sieg agrees, looking back to the television, muted and pointless. His hands curl into his pockets, and they just stand there considering each other for a moment, awkward and trying.
“I like your portrait,” Marc says, gesturing to the painting. Dad steps in closer, looking at it as if maybe he hadn’t stopped to notice for a while. His face softens, and he smiles at Marc, and Sieg feels his chest swell a little.
“Maybe you could get another one done some day,” Marc suggests, “My mum has a friend who’s an artist.”
Dad just nods, just says, “That’s a good idea. Sieg’s mum would have wanted that,” and maybe he doesn’t realise what all this means, or maybe he does. Always has.
Sieg took to running pretty quickly. The certainty of it. You work hard, you practice, you run in a straight line, you win. He hadn’t been serious about it before, when he was a kid [when his mum was still here]. It was Eddy’s thing.
Except he got older, and things changed, and he needed something to focus on. He needed something to work for. School was just a necessity, and riding his bike was just convenient, but running gave him purpose. Running gave him something to be.
“You’re fast,” Marc had said, once, impressed, maybe in awe, and Sieg didn’t know what to say to that.
Sieg didn’t know why the one thing that he could count on – the one thing that was so easy – was the thing that brought him Marc.
Chaotic, carefree, just run Marc, who Sieg could never have prepared for.
It’s warm in Marc’s room, Marc nestled in the spread of Sieg’s legs, all limbs and frenzied kisses. The curtains are open just a fraction, light pooling in across them, over the bed. Sieg’s hands are curled at the bottom of Marc’s t-shirt, the heat of his skin along Sieg’s fingers, the heat of his dick grooved against Sieg’s own.
Sieg huffs into Marc’s open mouth, tugging at the t-shirt to get it off, just pulling at anything to go, go, go,.
“What’re you doing?” Marc asks, pushing back a little, his mouth a cherry red from wear. His hair is a mess and he’s red along his cheeks and jaw, flushed and turned on and right here.
“Just want,” Sieg says with a little shrug, getting it up under Marc’s armpits and exposing the flat, milky expanse of his torso. Marc gets it off, throws it to the floor, and Sieg curls blunt nails into his chest, his legs winding around Marc’s waist.
When Sieg rocks again, causing friction, there’s a hot pulse like static from the fabric to the skin to the muscle to the bone. Marc trails his mouth to Sieg’s neck and Sieg doesn’t even attempt to be quiet when he feels the graze of Marc’s teeth at his tendons.
Sieg’s not proud to admit that he thinks of that girl from the party, the one who had stood so close to Marc Sieg could hardly find air, had touched Marc like he had asked for it and he hadn’t. He didn’t want her, he wanted Sieg. He wanted this, the tight press of their bodies, wound up like string, rolling, rolling.
“Fuck,” Sieg hisses, and then he’s grabbing at Marc’s waistband, and he just doesn’t want anything to be in their way, doesn’t want anything to come between them.
“Whoah, whoah,” Marc says, peeling off a little, looking at Sieg like he’s a puzzle to solve. “Slow down.”
“Don’t want to,” Sieg says, shaking his head, peeling his own t-shirt off and pulling Marc down with a hand around the back of his neck. Marc’s hands are rough, calloused from the graze of the track, all those silly handstands he considers exercise. They’re rough and everywhere and catching, holding Sieg down by his waist and looking Sieg in the eye when he says,
“Are you sure this is okay?”
Sieg’s fingers curl in Marc’s waistband again, and this time Marc doesn’t stop him. “Ja,” he says, and, “Willen,” and he doesn’t know who he wants it more for, for himself or for Marc or for both of them, to be together this way, in every single way.
“Okay,” Marc is saying on a breath, his whole body going tight and his hands tracking lower, and Sieg wanted to go so fast, wanted to get to the finish line, but it’s not like that at all.
Everything slows to almost a stop, and everything circles in on this: on them on this bed, on Marc’s hand on his dick, on his own hand pulling Marc free of his shorts.
He’s not trying to beat that girl, he doesn’t need to win. Marc says, “I want you so much,” and Sieg knows that he won a long time ago.
This is just the gold.
Marc’s mum is rummaging through a small bag, her head half buried inside while she mutters things too quietly for Sieg to hear. He plays at the condensation on his glass, feeling nervous, wondering why his boyfriend’s mum saying, I have something for you, seems like such a bad thing. It could just be a mint, or a coupon, or an invitation to Neeltje’s birthday - that’s coming up isn’t it, something’s coming up - and when she cries out triumphantly Sieg nearly spills his drink.
It’s a bandana. A bottle green bandana with white markings and she passes it to him hopefully. Sieg almost feels like laughing, taking it with a shaky grip. When he says,
“Wow,” he really, truly means it. He might not like bandanas (he might make fun of Marc when he wears them, pulling them down to cover his eyes and nose and mouth and kissing his chin) but he’s amazed by the gesture. To be thought of. “Thank you.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she says, getting that shy little look Marc must have inherited from her. She waves her hand to emphasise the point, motioning for him to try it on, and he has no idea what he’s doing but he gives it a go, rolling it up like he sees Marc do so often.
“What do you think?” he asks her, tilting his head, and she nods and giggles a little, telling him,
“You look very handsome,” with that familiar brightness in her eyes. Sieg decides to keep it on, finishing his drink and chatting idly to Marc’s mum - call me Caroline, please - about school and training and home, subtle hints to meet his dad and Eddy.
When Marc comes back from the store with his dad, holding big, heavy bags of food, he collapses against the door frame with deep, heaving cackles, almost unable to hold himself upright. Caroline scalds him, and his dad rolls his eyes, but Sieg’s cheeks are sore from grinning so much.
“He’s just jealous,” Caroline says, after Marc’s dropped the bags and leapt over to rip the bandana off SIeg’s head, telling him he can’t, they’re Marc’s, no way. “Keep it, Sieg, it’s yours.”
Marc has an arm around Sieg’s shoulder, and his dad’s making dinner for them, and Sieg’s hand curls around the cotton of the bandana. He wonders what else she’ll let him have, what other things he’ll be able to share in, and keep for his own.
Stef had stolen a bottle of his dad’s vodka once, got the team together for old time’s sake. They’d gotten drunk slow, and silly, no plans past drinking the last drop. No purpose past laughing at each other as they tried to take shot after shot. It was good, easy, like all those thick, oozing bubbles of doubt had finally popped. Like reaching out to run fingers through the hair at Marc’s nape wasn’t going to matter. It didn’t.
When Stef said, so no girls, ever, really? it just made Sieg shake, clutching at Stef’s shirt while he giggled, not sure if it was the booze or not. Marc had said, no, never, and Tom had told Stef, can’t steal ours off us, then, and it was all they said on it.
It was the last of it they needed to hear before passing the drink around and saying, prost, wishing them luck.
Sieg’s given up talking about the future. Marc gets quiet and cranky and won’t talk to him, changes the subject to something stupid like hockey. Sieg hates hockey, and he hates being treated like a domkop, like he doesn’t understand.
Marc’s older than him. Marc’s finished with school soon. Marc might have to move away.
“Are you going to go to University?” Sieg asks him one day, when they’re sitting at Marc’s table doing puzzles with Neeltje. She’d run off, bored, and they’d just stayed there; Marc’s leg kicked over Sieg’s, quiet and tired.
“It’s an easy question.”
“I don’t want to - ”
“Too bad,” Sieg says, pushing Marc off him and sitting up. “You have to. Eventually.”
“Fine,” Marc concedes, running a hand down his face, and slumping his shoulders so that he almost looks defeated. He’s so steadfast and sure, so hopeful. He embraces life, he revels in it, so Sieg can’t understand why he keeps stalling. Why he wants to make this so hard on everyone. “Eventually, but not today.”
“Today, tomorrow, it doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does.”
“Why, do you plan on leaving without telling me?”
“Then tell me now, tell me what you want, what you think - ”
Marc gets up so fast his chair topples onto the ground behind him. His hands are fists at his sides and he makes distance, takes cover in the frame of the open door, looking out. “You don’t want to hear it.”
“Why do you think I’m asking?”
“Because you’re – because you think every way is a good way, that we’ll work it out, but we – it could - ”
“Fine,” Sieg says, grabbing for his shoes that he’d kicked off under the table. It’s like a little light bulb has flicked on in his head, like he finally gets it now, how stupid he’s been. “Then I’ll go, and I won’t come back, and I won’t be the problem any more.”
“The problem?” Marc says, turning to face Sieg, who’s trying to get out.
“The problem. The reason you can’t decide what to do with your life.”
“It’s not a problem, it’s – it’s – Sieg,” Marc grabs Sieg by the shoulders as he tries to push past, shakes him a little to get him to look. Sieg does, jaw set, worn out, sick of thinking and worrying and hoping. “I don’t want to go to University.”
“I want to wait for you. I want to work, and save money, and when you’re done with school I want to go away for a while. I want us to go away.”
Sieg feels like he’s losing breath, like it’s seeping from his lungs, sweet. When he says, “Why didn’t you want to tell me that?” it’s a surprise Marc can even hear him.
“Because it’s what I want. It doesn’t have to be what you want.”
“You could change your mind-”
“So could you-”
“I just don’t want you to think - ”
Sieg crashes their mouths together, laughs into it, crashing and crashing until they’re hitting walls and doors and falling to the floor. Marc’s laughing too, grabbing Sieg until it almost hurts, Sieg’s shoes kicked off again, not going anywhere.
“Goodnight,” Marc says to the curve of Sieg’s collar, Sieg pressed against the car and Marc’s dad waiting inside to drive him home.
“Goodnight,” Sieg says back, hands bunched in the back of Marc’s jumper and his head tipped back where Marc’s hand is waiting behind him.
“I love you,” Marc tells him, like it’s no big deal, like he might have just said see you tomorrow, and it hits Sieg like a fighting punch. His knees buckle.
“I love you, too.”