Dylan paced the draughty seating area of Truro train station, clutching a paper cup of cinnamon-spiced coffee from the dodgy Costa stand. It tasted like soap, but he hardly noticed. Back home, coffee was his drug of choice—lifeblood when the chaos of reality frayed his nerves—but he wasn’t in Romford now. He’d left the city behind, and within the hour, he’d get his reward . . . if anyone ever showed up to give him a lift.
He circled around the glass entrance doors again, scanning the traffic outside for a familiar vehicle. When he found none, he pulled his phone from his pocket and scanned his message threads, wondering if he’d missed something—instructions to make his own way to Newquay or any clue who was picking him up. Over the past few months, he’d seen them all—Harry, Joe, Emma, even old George in the stinky horsebox. But the WhatsApp chats revealed nothing. Just a vague notion that someone he recognised would be there to meet his afternoon train. Someone who was either late as fuck or had clean forgotten.
Fuck it. Dylan eyed the taxi rank. He could’ve done without spending twenty quid, but—
Relief punched Dylan in the gut. He whirled around. Blinked. And threw himself into the embrace he’d been dreaming of all the way from London. Clutched the lithe, sinewy body against him, and buried his face in silky hair that smelt of real coffee and grass.
I’ve missed you.
I love you.
For a long moment, they simply held each other, until Dylan pulled back to check his Angelo-starved imagination wasn’t playing tricks on him. “God, it’s really you.”
Angelo laughed. “Who else would it be?”
“Everyone. You’ve never come to the station before.”
Smoky brown eyes clouded with guilt. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Shit. That’s not what I meant—I just wasn’t expecting to see you for a little while longer.”
“Oh.” Mollified, Angelo grabbed Dylan’s hand to tow him out of the station. “Come on then. Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait! I need my stuff.” Dylan doubled back and grabbed the hold-all and messenger bag he’d hulked on the train. He shifted the larger bag out of Angelo’s reach but gave up the one carrying his laptop.
Harry’s car was outside, but there was no sign of the man himself. Dylan cocked an eyebrow. “You drove?”
“Uh-huh. I do have a licence, you know.”
“I know that, you just haven’t driven for, like, a year.”
Angelo rolled his eyes. “I don’t need to back home when everything’s on our doorstep. Down here I have to ask for a lift anytime I run out of lube, so Harry lent me his car for a while.”
A while. Dylan’s stomach clenched as he stowed his bag in the boot of the borrowed Ford Focus. It had already been a couple of months since Angelo had come to Harry’s rehabilitation retreat to recover from a severe ME relapse. Dylan wasn’t sure he could handle the prospect of a lonely train home in two weeks’ time.
He slid into the passenger seat and shamelessly ogled Angelo as he slipped behind the wheel. It had been thirteen days since they’d last seen each other in the flesh, but the difference in Angelo—as Dylan was becoming accustomed to every time he made the six-hundred-mile round trip to visit—was maddeningly clear. “You look so well.”
Angelo fixed him with a disbelieving frown. “Really? I had trouble getting up this morning.”
Another kick to the gut. Guilt replaced frustration, and Dylan covered Angelo’s hand with his own. “Fuck. I’m sorry. Do you feel better now? I hate it when you’re in pain.”
“I’m not in pain, babe. I promise. Harry had me doing yoga with the donkeys before I could think about it too much. It hurt then, but I feel good now.”
And there it was—the elephant in the room, and the reason they’d wound up at the end of the world in the first place. Harry was Angelo’s long-time physiotherapist, and the only one who could help Angelo when his ME made life so hard. The only one who could set him back on his fatigue-ravaged feet when all Dylan could do was angst himself into a migraine and make the fucking tea.
He left his hand where it was as Angelo started the car and backed out of the parking space. Truro disappeared and rugged Cornish countryside took its place. Dylan gazed out of the window, absorbing the familiar heat in his veins from Angelo’s touch, and pondered what lay ahead. Spending Christmas on Joe and Harry’s farm had seemed a no-brainer a few weeks ago. With Angelo on the mend, he’d looked forward to long, lazy days of eating, fucking, and just being together, but he felt antsy now, like he’d stepped into a puddle of quicksand. He’d avoided asking himself why while he’d been snowed under at the office, but with the end of his working year behind him, reality was hitting home. Angelo looked well because he was well. Because farm life suited him—healed him—and sooner or later, one of them would have to voice the idea that something in their current way of living had to change.
* * *
Angelo took Dylan’s bags to the chalet he called home right now, and relief washed over him as he dumped them on the bed. I miss him so much.
“All right, mate?”
Angelo spun around.
Harry blocked the doorway with his large frame, handsome face amused. “Dylan got caught by Sal. She’s taken him inside for tea and cake.”
“Only for the day. She came to tell Joe she’s spending Christmas with Bob.”
“Ouch.” Angelo winced. “What did Joe say to that?”
“About his mother ditching him to shack up with her fella? What do you think?” Harry grinned, but his face said it all. “Put it this way, I’m glad we have a full house to distract him, even if she hasn’t gone very far.”
“I bet. You’ve been counting down the weeks, eh?”
“You know it.” Angelo sat on the edge of the bed, the energy he’d ridden to the station suddenly deserting him.
Attuned to the entire world as ever, Harry frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Liar. What is it? Something sore?”
“No . . . it’s not that.”
Harry waited, believing Angelo, as always, but giving him time to figure out the real answer.
“I’m scared,” Angelo admitted when the silence became too much.
Harry knelt in front of him. “Of what?”
“Of telling him I don’t want to go home.”
Understanding dawned in Harry’s gentle eyes. “So, you’ve seriously considered my job offer?”
Angelo nodded. “Of course I have. I’d be a fool to turn you down—and I don’t want to—but I can’t see how it’s ever going to work.”
“You don’t have to decide any time soon,” Harry said. “We’d be lucky to have you, so it’s an open-ended offer.”
“It’s a ridiculous offer,” Angelo muttered. Flexible hours, free accommodation, and a competitive salary, it was a disabled therapist’s dream job. It was Angelo’s dream job, and Harry was wrong about having unlimited time to decide. “My sick pay at the Blackberry Clinic is about to expire. They’ve said they’ll keep my position open for a while, but if I’m not back by spring, they’ll have to replace me.”
“You’ve only been gone a few months.”
“I know, but I didn’t have a good summer. The heat got to my muscles and I couldn’t get out of bed for most of August, remember? Besides, I wasn’t coping there anyway. I love the job, but the commuting is killing me. That weekend Rhys broke into my flat, I fell off the bus on the way home.”
“You never told me that.”
“Yeah, well. I figured I’d embarrassed myself enough by needing your brother and his new boyfriend to babysit me, then pretty much dying in your boyfriend’s mum’s bed.”
Harry grunted, clearly remembering the dark days a few months ago when Angelo had been so weak he could hardly raise his head. “That’s whatever at this point. You needed help, so your friends helped you. It’s not like you haven’t returned the favour by working here for free.”
“In exchange for your undivided attention, and I’m still getting a fucking good deal.”
Harry opened his mouth to argue but seemed to think better of it. “We could ride this circle all day. Bottom line is you’re as helpful to me as I am to you, but I know it’s not that simple—hence the open-ended offer. Have you talked to Dylan about it at all?”
Angelo shrugged. “Because he’s super frazzled with work and travelling down here to see my sorry arse every other week.”
“So maybe Dylan’s life needs to change too.”
“Right. ’Cause wouldn’t that be a fucking fairy tale?”
“Realist, actually. It’s me stressing Dylan out right now. He could handle work if I was there to have his back.”
“You are there for him, Angelo. Don’t write your entire relationship off because circumstance has forced you apart for a couple of months. Talk to him. You might be surprised by what he has to say.”