Authors: Jay Northcote
Sam squinted at the numbers on the front doors as he slowed the car, crawling along until he found one with the number seventeen nearly obscured by a large Christmas wreath.
He pulled up in front of the house. Before he’d even had a chance to unstrap his seat belt, the front door opened and Ryan was there, waving in greeting.
Sam got out of the car and approached him. He grinned, heart skipping a beat as Ryan grinned back.
“Alright, mate. You found it, then.”
“Obviously.” Sam couldn’t resist the opportunity for sarcasm but ducked as Ryan cuffed him lightly on the head, knocking a strand of Sam’s dark red hair into his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Your directions worked. You were right about the satnav taking me to totally the wrong end of your road.”
Ryan pulled Sam into a hug, and Sam lost himself for a moment, breathing him in until Ryan released him. If Sam’s cheeks were flushed afterwards, he hoped Ryan would put it down to the cold.
“It’s good to see you,” Ryan said.
“You too.” Sam tucked his hair behind his ear and smiled again as he met Ryan’s brown eyes.
It had only been a week or so since they’d packed up and left uni to go home for the holidays, but Sam had missed Ryan like crazy. He was used to being around him all the time, and having a break from that had only served to reinforce how totally gone for Ryan he was. He suppressed a sigh. He was the ultimate gay cliché, secretly and hopelessly in love with his straight best friend.
Sam pushed those thoughts down and locked them back in the dark, secret box in his mind where they belonged. After two-and-a-bit years, he was getting pretty good at it. He kept hoping he’d eventually meet someone who’d take his mind off Ryan, but despite his best attempts, it hadn’t happened yet.
“So, are you ready to go?” Sam jingled the keys of his mum’s car. He’d borrowed it for the couple of nights they’d be away.
“Yeah. Let me just get my bag.”
Ryan’s mum came out to see him off. After nodding a quick hello to Sam, she pulled Ryan into a hug. “Have fun, love. And I’ll see you when we’re both back home.”
“You too, Mum. Have a good Christmas.”
As Sam pulled away from the kerb, Ryan twisted around to wave at his mum until they turned the corner out of his road.
“You’re not at your mum’s for Christmas, then?” Sam asked.
“Nah.” Ryan settled back into his seat. “She’s going away with Barry to Morocco for a bit of winter sun. I’m going to stay with my dad and Nicola.”
Ryan didn’t sound too excited at the prospect.
“Won’t your sister be there too?”
“Not this year. She’s going up to Manchester to stay with her boyfriend and his parents.”
“Oh.” Sam wasn’t sure what else to say. Family Christmases were always a bit weird when you were used to living away from home and having your independence, but at least all his family lived under the same roof and he had his younger siblings to have a laugh with.
There was a long silence.
“This couple of days should be fun, though,” Sam finally said. “It will be cool to have some time to chill out before we go back to deal with family again.”
“Yeah.” Ryan sounded more cheerful at the prospect. “Yeah, it’ll be great. So where exactly is this place we’re going to? I never got around to looking it up on a map.”
“Fuck knows. It’s in the middle of bloody nowhere. The satnav should get us to the village, but I’ll need you to map-read from there. Jon told me to head for the pub, and I’ve printed off a map and his instructions for the last bit. It’s in the glove compartment.”
Ryan got out the map,
opened the road atlas. “What’s the name of the village again?”
“Something Welsh and unpronounceable with not nearly enough vowels in it,” Sam replied. “It’s written down.”
“Found it.” Ryan chuckled. “Yeah, I see what you mean about the vowels.”
“We should be there in about an hour and a half. It’s not that far.”
“What time are Jon and Trina supposed to be getting there?”
“Dunno, midafternoon, I think?” Sam replied. “He texted me earlier, and he reckoned they’d be there by the time we arrived. They were going to the supermarket on the way to stock up on booze and food.”
“Okay.” Ryan frowned at the map. “Turn left here. This is the one I missed before. It’s so tiny, I thought it was a track, not an actual road.”
Sam turned carefully onto the insanely narrow road that led steeply up from the one they’d taken out of the village.
“If it has grass growing in the middle of it, I think it
a track.” He kept in a low gear, bumping carefully over the uneven surface. “Blimey. I’m glad Jon’s instructions were good. I wouldn’t have fancied our chances of finding this without them.”
“Just a little further… round this next bend and we should be there.” The road levelled off a little as they turned the corner. “Is that the right name?” Ryan asked, pointing to a stone plaque set into the wall. The carved words on it read
“Yeah, that’s it.”
There was no driveway, but the road widened in front of the cottage, allowing enough space for Sam to park.
“Jon and Trina aren’t here yet, then,” Sam
as he pulled into the space, careful to leave enough room for another car.
“Come on.” Ryan was already opening his door, mindful of the narrow gap between the car and the drystone wall.
Sam got out too, excited to see where they’d be staying. Jon had shown them a couple of photos of the cottage, but it looked very different in real life, smaller than he’d imagined and much more isolated. The photos hadn’t done the location justice. There was only one other building in sight, another cottage farther up the road, obscured by trees. Aside from that, all Sam could see were fields, sheep, and a few small clumps of trees here and there. Rolling green hills turned into mountains in the distance and the grey sky darkened threateningly over the peaks. The wildness of the Welsh countryside was bleak and unforgiving, but beautiful too. It was a far cry from the manicured lawns and stately town houses of Oxford where Sam lived, or from the housing estate in Swindon where he’d picked Ryan up earlier this afternoon.
He stared out at the landscape and smiled, his breath curling like smoke in the freezing air.
“How do we get in?” Ryan asked. “Do we have to wait for Jon? It’s bloody cold out here.”
“There’s a key hidden,” Sam said. “It’s under the piece of slate in the flower bed by the front door.”
“Here?” Ryan stooped and lifted the blue-grey stone. “Yep, got it.”
He put the key in the lock and jiggled it a bit, finally managing to get it to turn.
They went inside and looked around.
It was quite dark. Although the curtains were open, the windows were small and a little dusty and didn’t let much light in.
Sam found a switch and flipped it. In the yellow glow from the overhead light, he saw the front door had led them straight into what was obviously the main living area of the cottage. There was a coat stand by the door, and the stairs led up from opposite the door.
“This is cool,” Ryan said.
“Yeah. I can’t believe we get to stay here for free.”
It wasn’t exactly luxurious, but Sam didn’t care. The two-seater sofa was old and threadbare in places, and the small armchair that was also crammed into the small space had seen better days too. The flagstone floor was polished with age where it wasn’t covered by an ancient-looking rug.
Sam shivered. “It’s a bit nippy, isn’t it?” It was almost as cold in here as it was outdoors. “I wonder how we put the heating on?” He looked around for a radiator, but he couldn’t see one anywhere.
“I don’t think there is any heating,” Ryan said. “Or not like we’re used to, anyway. But there’s a fireplace.” He went over to the open hearth and crouched down to poke at a basket of logs. “These’ll burn nicely. We should probably get this lit as soon as we can.”
They went to get their bags from the car before they explored the rest of the cottage.
The only other room on the ground floor was a kitchen at the back of the house. It was small and very basic. The window over the sink looked out onto a garden bordered with a low
. Sheep grazed in the fields beyond.
“At least there’s a kettle,” Ryan said. “But how are we supposed to cook without a microwave?”
Sam laughed. “Oh my God, First World problems. I’m sure we’ll manage. Knowing Jon, he’ll be bringing pizza and oven chips anyway. That’s all he ever eats.”
There were two bedrooms upstairs and a tiny bathroom—just a toilet, a sink, and a bath with a shower over it. Both bedrooms were small, with very little space left over aside from what was taken up by furniture. The room at the back had twin beds, and the room at the front had a double.
“I guess we’re in here, then.” Sam put his bag down on one of the twin beds.
“Yeah. The lovebirds are gonna want the double, I’m sure.” Ryan grinned. “I hope these walls are thick.”
“Ugh.” Sam felt his face heat at the thought. It was bad enough getting to hear Jon and Trina through the walls when he was alone in his room back in the house they shared. The thought of having to listen to the sound of them shagging with Ryan in the same room made his toes curl with an uncomfortable mixture of embarrassment and something hotter and squirmier.
“Come on.” He stood quickly, wanting to steer their thoughts away from anything sex-related. “Let’s go and get that fire lit. Hopefully the others will be here soon with the beer and food. I’m starving.”
“I’m glad you know what you’re doing.” Sam watched as Ryan carefully constructed a structure in the grate with scrumpled-up newspaper and bits of kindling. “I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do.”
“Yeah, my few years in the Scouts are coming in handy now,”
said. “I always loved making fires. It was the best bit of scout camp.”
He struck a match and held it to the paper in a few places to get it lit. The kindling was beautifully dry, and soon that was burning too. Ryan gradually added bigger pieces of wood until it was crackling away and starting to glow red.
“Perfect.” Ryan sat back on his heels and put his hands out.
surprised at the heat it was putting out already. “Oh, that’s lush.”
“I hope Jon brings marshmallows,” Ryan said. Then he added, “Speaking of Jon, where the
they? Surely they should be here by now?”
“Yeah.” Sam pulled his phone out of his pocket and frowned. “I’ve got no signal, how about you?”
Ryan got his phone out and shook his head. “Nope, not a thing.”
They tried upstairs, but that was no better, so Sam put his coat on and walked up the hill a little way. A couple of hundred yards up the road, near the other cottage, he managed to get three bars of signal, and within a minute or two, a series of texts and a missed call from Jon pinged in.
b late, car broke down. Waiting for the AA
Then a little later:
Won’t make it today. Car’s in the garage being fixed and we’re back home. Should be okay to come tomorrow tho
Course the signal there’s shit. Reply if u
Sam dialled voicemail and listened to Jon’s message.
“Sorry, mate. Hope you got my texts, but my crappy car broke down. It’ll be fixed by lunchtime tomorrow, so we’ll drive over then. Mum says to help yourself to whatever there is in the cottage that’s edible, but there’s a village shop, so you won’t starve. It’s only open till half five, though, so I hope you get there in time. If not, the local pub does food, but it’s a bit pricey. Okay. I think that’s all? Yeah. See you tomorrow, then. Have fun.”
Sam checked the time and cursed, they didn’t have long to make it to the shop. He shot a quick text to Jon as he hurried back down the hill, telling him he’d got the messages.
He was breathless when he burst back into the cottage, and Ryan turned, eyebrows raised in question.
“They’re not gonna make it till tomorrow, car trouble. But they’ve got all the food, haven’t they? So we need to get to the shop in the village before it shuts.”
“Oh, bollocks.” Ryan frowned. “That’s a pain in the arse. I just put a load more logs on the fire. We probably shouldn’t leave it till it’s burned down a bit.”
“It’s okay, I’ll go on my own. Do you want anything in particular?”
“Nah, anything’s fine with me. But make sure you get some beer too.”
“Of course, I’m not gonna forget that.”
Neither of them were heavy drinkers, but they were students, after all,
part of the point of these couple of nights away from the watchful eyes of their parents was to chill out and party a bit. Plus Sam was feeling nervous at the prospect of a whole night alone with Ryan. It wasn’t that they didn’t normally spend lots of time together, but other people were usually around, and the distractions of assignments, or TV shows, or the Xbox. It was going to be a little different here with not much to do. Beer might help stop Sam feeling so awkward all of a sudden.