The air smells like rain.
In fact, the air is so thick with it, the only thing you can do is take a deep breath and hope you don't choke.
More than that though, it's quiet. So quiet it's loud, and it's thundering in Sieger's ears.
It's all he can hear, and he wants to bring his fingers up to block out the sound, but he doesn't.
He just goes to the locker room and changes into his running things, like he always does.
As he's tying his laces he shoves all thoughts out of his head and starts to stretch.
Running will take his mind off of it, surely it will. It's worked in the past, why wouldn't it work now?
Or so he thinks. His times are worse than usual. So he tries again. And he counts, and he focuses on counting, and the numbers, and even though he's not sure he feels better, his times meet his goal.
And that's the most important thing because the trials for the B juniors are in three days.
And he needs to get on the team. He needs to. It's what his mom would have wanted. And he needs to make her proud.
He has to.
On Tuesday, Sieger is waiting with Stef for their race. Stef is stretching, but overall, relaxed.
Sieger on the other hand, is a wreck. He's trying to count, he really is, but he keeps losing track.
Because Stef knows him better than he knows himself, he gives Sieger a small squeeze on the shoulder before going to his own lane.
Sieger fixes his socks, and then he's ready.
Because he has to be.
Maybe it's the socks, he can't be sure, but he's able to count, and both he and Stef get pulled aside.
All Sieger can here through the rushing in his ears is "under 13" and that's all it takes to make him smile. And Stef is smiling too, and then the coach points to two other boys.
Dazedly, Sieger brings his eyes over to them. One of them meets his eyes and gives him a coy smile. A smile with something far too knowing about it.
Sieger just stares back.
It's all he can do.
It turns Marc is a good runner. He's fast, but there's something so natural about the way he runs, so fluid.
Something that Sieger lacks.
"I run best when I don't think about anything at all."
That's what Marc says to Sieger.
And Sieger can't wrap his head around it. How can he run without counting? What if his steps aren't right? What if he's knees aren't high enough? How can he not count? Sieger has to count.
He has to.
Training with Marc is something new to Sieger. It's full of small smirks and knowing smiles that Sieger's not sure he deserves.
It's also sweat soaked skin, and competing, and little jabs about his socks.
And Sieger finds himself counting less, because if Marc can run without counting, why can't he?
But then they go swimming. And when Marc wants him to stay, he can feel something pulling inside of him, but he ignores it, and he goes with Stef.
But when he Stef says goodbye and goes on his own street, the pulling comes back, and this time it's too strong to ignore.
So he turns his bike around and goes as fast as he can, hoping, wanting, /needing/ Marc to still be there.
And he is, but when Sieger sees him, hugging his knees, all of his confidence is lost, and he tries to turn around, to sneak back unannounced. To run away.
He hears, and it makes him jump, he stumbles for the words, finally managing to get out "Hey!"
Hey like he wasn't turning around. Like he wasn't looking back.
And when Marc presses his lips against Sieger's, Sieger feels strange.
He feels warm, and tingly, and not like he's ever felt before.
And he wants, he needs to feel it again. So he leans in and kisses Marc.
And he doesn't regret it one bit.
Until he does, and he says something he isn't sure is true anymore.
"I'm not gay."
"Of course you're not." Is all Marc says, that oddly terrifying smile still present on his lips.
Because Marc knows.
He has to.
When they go for a training weekend, Sieger wants to pretend he doesn't have a sort of girlfriend.
Not because he wants to be that guy, but because he just doesn't know what to do or how to feel. He's supposed to have a girlfriend, and so he does... But that's just because Stef is dating her best friend, and he expects them to date too. More than that Sieger just doesn't want to hurt her feelings. (Even though he's probably hurting them more this way..)
But he knows, even though he doesn't want to admit it, that Marc is more than just a friend to him.
So when they're on the beach, and they've finished kissing, and their fingers are laced in a way that's lazy but vital, and Marc breathes out "Let's stay here forever." Sieger pretends like they could.
Because he wants to.
Sieger doesn't know why he pushed Marc. Maybe he should start counting again.
And then the car was loud, and the counting wasn't helping.
So he yells for Ed to let him out, and when Ed does, he yells and he hits a tree because what is he without Marc?
So he walks. Not home though. He's not ready to go home yet. So he goes to the pond. And he rips his clothing off like they're smothering him, and he dives into the water.
He clambers onto the slippery wood of the raft and hugs his knees like Marc did that one day.
That's when the first tear falls.
And then there are so many Sieger's convinced his sobbing is louder than the thunder.
And part of him hopes Marc will have forgotten something and come back.
But he knows that Marc won't.
Marc doesn't have to forgive him.
He just doesn't.
When Marc can't even, won't even look at him, Sieger does the best he can to apologize.
It's not enough though. He hadn't expected it to be.
So Sieger does what he does best. He pushes one sock down, and the other one up, and he counts, and most of all he runs. And he wins. But it doesn't even matter, because Marc still won't look at him.
He's still reliving the night before when Stef comes over. Sieger tries to pay attention, he really does, but every time he looks at Stef, all he sees is Marc, and when he does that his heart squeezes painfully.
Stef, being Stef, knows. And he tries to bring it up as casually as possible. And Sieger looks away.
Because it's what he's good at. He's good at looking back, and avoiding topics, and pushing people away. And most of all he's good at running. In the wrong direction.
When Eddy's yelp comes from the garage and his father and Eddy are hugging, the last string snaps and Sieger stands up abruptly.
He takes the motorcycle, and rides off.
Because he needs Marc.
He just does.
Now that Sieger is at Marc's door, he's not sure what to do. He fiddles with his shirt and contemplates turning around, but then he's spotted.
She drags him inside and calls for Marc, figuring that's what the right thing is.
Sieger's not sure what's right anymore, but when Marc trots down the stairs, and he meets Sieger's eyes, he's not so sure this is it.
Marc stops at the bottom of the stairs, and Neeltje, feeling her job is done, leaves the two.
"Well, have you come here to shove me again?" Marc asks, coldly.
"I'm sorry." Sieger says, but it comes out as a whisper. The next time it comes out as a sob. And now Marc looks unsure, which is at least something.
"I'm sorry Marc." Sieger says. "I know I fucked up, but I just need you to know that I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry."
And that's when Sieger turns around, deciding to abort the mission.
"Wait." Marc calls from behind him. Sieger stops and turns around, slowly, painfully slowly. "I just want to.. I just want to know why."
Sieger swallows. He doesn't have an answer for this. But he knows he has to give one. So he tries. Because Marc is all that matters. "Because I was scared."
"Of?" Marc queries, clearly not satisfied.
"Of.. Of being turned away. I figured.. I figured.." He trails off again, not able to meet Marc's eyes.
"Well you've got your girlfriend to crawl back to. You're not gay after all." He snaps back.
"She broke up with me." Sieger says quietly.
"So what, I'm a consolation prize!" Marc yells, his eyes hurt and his face red.
"No." Sieger says shakily. "No." He says again more firmly. "You're the goal. You always were."
"Why should I forgive you?" Marc asks, still angry, but also wary. Of the situation, and of Sieger.
"But.. I want you to." Sieger says hopefully.
"What if you do it again?"
"I won't." Sieger responds firmly.
"How can I be sure of that?"
"Because I'm ready to start being brave."
"Are you sure?"
And then Marc is stepping closer. He's leaning down and their faces are close. Too close. And then they're kissing, and it's so full of everything. Of apology, and sadness, and most of all of want. And when they break apart, Sieger whispers a shaky "yes".
And they're going to make this work.
They have to.