Oswald Sattle has been sleeping in his Toyota Camry for the last 273 days, the exact number of days since he discovered his fiancé cheating on him. Now, out of money and out of options, he’s on his way to Nortown. Aiden, an acquaintance from his past, has offered him a job opportunity he can’t turn down, no matter how much he’d like to.
Joshua Roth moved to Nortown four years ago, and he has everything he needs -- a job, friends, peace and quiet. He’s not looking for a boyfriend; no one even knows he’s gay, and he’d like it to stay that way. Everything changes when he offers Oswald a place to stay, though.
Oswald looks like he wants to run away, and Josh finds himself suggesting things that will make him stay. All he wants is for Oswald to smile. Oswald doesn’t want to overstay his welcome, but nothing soothes his nerves like being with Joshua in his cabin.
How long can Oswald stay before it’s time to move on again? Can Joshua have Oswald staying with him without the whole town talking about them? Probably not, but does he care?
The shock of hitting the water had stolen Oswald’s breath, then fear had kicked in. So fucking clumsy. He’d steered the canoe towards the portage; there had been signs pointing to where he should go, and the man he’d rented the canoe from had talked him through it.
Wasn’t standing up in a boat the first thing you learnt not to do? Oswald didn’t know, but when he’d begun swaying and wobbling those were the words ringing in his head.
It had been colder than he’d thought it’d be, but the pull of the current was what had panic roaring in his ears. Funny how when he realised he might die if he went down the waterfall he wanted to live. Invisible hands had dragged him down under the surface, and he’d fought them until his muscles ached, until his lungs burned, until a numbness had all but immobilised him.
He’d hit a rock. The pain in his hip as he’d crashed into the solid shape was jarring, but he’d managed to cling to it. Frothy whitewater washed over him as he tore his hands to shreds on the stones -- crawling, pulling, dragging. When he’d finally managed to haul himself onto a rock a couple of metres from the riverbank, he’d collapsed there.
Where the canoe had gone, he didn’t know, and he didn’t have the energy to move. He lay there panting until his eyes drifted closed. He’d rest for a little bit, a few minutes; then he’d go the last bit till he was up on dry land.
A few seconds later he began chuckling. So fucking pathetic. No wonder Guy had needed others. He couldn’t even get himself down a river without fucking up.
The chills came next, his entire body shaking and shuddering and the chuckles turned into sob-like sounds.
Oswald didn’t sob; he didn’t cry -- crying never helped anything. He’d walked in on his husband-to-be with his cock buried in the best man’s throat -- and he hadn’t made a sound. He’d walked up to the altar and told everyone the wedding was off -- and he hadn’t cried. He’d gone back to the apartment he’d shared with Guy for the last five years and packed his clothes -- and not a single tear had escaped his eyes. He’d stood there while Guy had been screaming at him that he was ridiculous, that none of the others meant anything, that everyone knew that, no matter how many others there were, Oswald was the one who mattered. Oswald was the one he’d chosen to marry -- and he hadn’t uttered one word in response.
Two hundred and seventy-three days, or was it two hundred and seventy-four now? He cracked his eyes open. It was near-full dark, so it might have turned into day number two hundred and seventy-four. With chattering teeth, he looked around.
A bird screeched not far from him; he’d always believed the forest was quiet after dark. Resting his forehead against the rock he tried to make his teeth stop chattering, but it was freaking cold.
Then a branch cracked, and the sound of muttered curses followed.
* * * *
Joshua followed the trail up past the waterfall. It had taken longer than he’d thought it would. His sweat-soaked long-sleeved T-shirt was clinging to his body, and it didn’t help that the darkness had grown thicker around him. He wasn’t afraid he wouldn’t find his way back; he’d walked here often enough in daylight to know where things could get dicey but also when the worst that could happen was he’d scratch himself on a twig.
He walked as close to the river as he could. It was easier to see there than among the trees. The sound of the water quieted as soon as he’d passed the fall. It was still louder than it was downstream, but at least he could listen again.
Glancing out over the river, he missed the branch that had fallen over the trail. His legs caught in it, the crack as he stumbled loud enough to wake the dead, and he cursed the devil and his mother while rubbing his calf -- no blood.
As he looked out over the river again, he thought something moved on a rock just a little bit above where the currents really sped up.
The form moved again, and a moan travelled in the wind. Fuck. He’d hoped he’d imagined it. “Are you all right?” Stupid question.
“Splendid. Thanks for asking.”
Josh smiled. A man judging from the voice and probably not in danger of dying on him. “Well, then, are you planning on sleeping out there tonight or could I perhaps persuade you to join me up here where it’s a little dryer?”