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Tom stops short in the crosswalk as an SUV decked out in flame stickers barrels through. Honking, but maybe just always.

When he first moved here from Oregon, he actually had to Google in the first week whether or not pedestrians had the right-of-way in this state, too. (Legally: yeah. Culturally: Frogger.)

He had hoped maybe this coast might at least be kinder than Pine Springs, but it’s just as salty and cold here and there’s twice as much wind. As far as a head count on haunted evil creatures, Tom’s not sure yet on the total, but he wouldn’t have packed up and moved here in the first place if the number was zero.

Just last week he picked up a job without meaning to — one of the neighbors said she had eels chewing through the bottom of her brand new bow rider, and Tom eagerly got rid of them all but SHIT they were not eels.

Andy’s latest letter closed with “I guess there must be something with a lot of heads out there if you’ve been gone seven months!”

But he already knows everything, Tom calls him more than he calls his mother and Andy’s only teasing, well aware of exactly where and why Tom has been anchored lately.

Today’s sun makes an appearance of about four minutes before crashing unceremoniously into the horizon. The whole sky’s lit up dark orange by the time Tom makes it down to the docks.

He swings his legs in a practiced ease over a roped-off area meant to keep most people out, and creaks a familiar path down the sea-worn boards. Sometimes he’d bother to undo the ropes but not now, when it’s almost nighttime and his arms are full — a packet of bacon the butcher cut him as a “thank you” for fixing the guy’s fucked-up gunwale; an entire metal cleat for the front of the Paulsens’ old catamaran; in the other hand, a tiny little bouquet of wildflowers from along the walk.

Tom comes to the end of the dock, at the place that he’s been moored now for a while.

He’s never said “honey, I’m home” before but right now suddenly feels like the right time, in semi-irony but real affection.

“Oh, fuck! No, wait, shit, rewind and pretend I said something instead about bringing home the bacon. Because I actually did, for real.” Tom holds up the package as proof.

The idle picking of an acoustic guitar ends with a wooden plunk while Tom’s still speaking, and he hears the familiar sounds of metal ladder rungs being climbed. He smiles the second he sees two crystal-blue eyes peering over the top of the boat at him.

With some effort, Flynn hoists himself up onto the boat’s roof, already smirking.

“Well it’s for the fridge, then, cuz I already made tonight’s dinner!” Flynn announces, re: the bacon, at the volume required to be heard from up there.

“Um,” Tom looks at his own loaded arms, “Can I, like, throw it to you so I can dock?”

“Don’t chuck it in the water!” Flynn laughs, but he’s already clearly posturing to catch it.

The packet doesn’t go very high before it slaps down onto the ship’s deck, but it’s better than the ocean floor.

Now they’re both laughing; Flynn clambers down to deck, Tom sets the boat cleat down gently next to the bacon.

“I’m still eatin’ it,” Flynn promises, with a threatening point in the bacon’s direction.

They finally come within reaching distance, with Flynn still aboard and Tom still on what might technically be called land.

“I brought you these,” Tom says, softer, and is careful not to drop a single blossom from the wildflower bundle into the sea.

These days, Flynn’s usual smirk is easy to melt into an unguarded grin.

When they’re on even ground, Flynn’s the shorter one. From the docks, Tom has to push himself up against the hull, supported on his palms, his feet hardly touching the ground, in order to make their faces meet. Flynn leans down into the familiar pose, eager and still smiling.

There are times in Birchport where Tom feels like an outsider, but today is not one of them.

The dinner that Flynn made turns out to be ribeye with sage butter. A jumble of local vegetables cooked in the leftover sauce. Kate gave them a Merlot for Christmas that they still haven’t broken into, and tonight they toast to her, and to Flynn’s cooking, and to Tom and Andy’s latest World of Warcraft raid.

Tom’s on dish duty, like almost always. They only just two months ago hit the stage of dropping the Big Three Words, and it still sends him reeling to hear Flynn say it again; low in his ear, wrapping around him from behind while Tom’s up to his elbows in the sink.

He leaves the forks to soak indefinitely, leaves wet handprints all over Flynn’s shirt.

Later, in both the afterglow and the actual starlight, Tom leans his head on Flynn’s bare shoulder and yawns monstrously right into his ear.

“I gotta brush my teeth,” he manages to include inside the yawn somewhere.

Flynn looks at him for a long time, his azure eyes completely alight.

Flynn looks at him for a long time, happy.

“I wrote you something,” Flynn almost whispers, like a confession.

They end up on the deck again, since Flynn left his guitar inside the ship’s bridge. He was going to fetch it alone but Tom just wrapped himself in a towel and said an outside concert might be nice.

Underneath the waxing moon, Flynn strums out a soft series of chords and accompanies himself; the chorus is a tender falsetto, and the lyrics are about the ocean and the Northern Lights and falling in love with a man.

Tom beams in a reverent silence until the final note.

“I love it,” he says first before Flynn can ask.

“Oh, God, are you sure?” Flynn laughs, “I was afraid it sounds too close to the last one.”

Tom will never get tired of hearing new songs about stars and starfish and old gay wounds.

“I love you,” he says first before Flynn can ask.