Even though the early September sun shining from a clear blue sky, there was already a slight chill in the air. It was one of those beautiful days where the sky seemed infinite in depth and width, almost as if the horizon had ceased to exist. Walking from his car to the station, Joel pulled his jacket a little tighter across his chest, huddling slightly against the cold. He couldn’t believe it was time to break out the autumn stuff already, but summer was definitely drawing to a close.
One good thing about autumn was hockey practice had started again. He always missed playing during the summer months, partially because he knew those first few practices were always hell on skates. This year, he was better prepared than ever. Having Lucas to work out with had made those boring but necessary sessions in the gym bearable and of course, the running had gone much better too. Lucas didn’t especially like the gym, but he liked the results he got as Joel showed him a few tricks. He liked it so much that during summer, Joel had on occasion felt the need to tell him to put on a t-shirt, as Lucas seemed very content parading around in the center of Kiruna flaunting himself. At the same time, he felt strangely proud of having a boyfriend like Lucas who drew so many looks from both women and men. Knowing people couldn’t keep their eyes off him made Joel horny and possessive in a way he had never experienced before. Perhaps that was Lucas’ plan all along since he reaped the benefits when they got home. Perhaps he had never cared about anyone the way he cared about Lucas. Whatever it was, Joel had decided it was a good thing, this need they had for each other.
He walked into the station and went over to his desk, hanging up his jacket. These days he tried to get as many early shifts as possible, so he could get home earlier in the afternoon. In the mornings, there were usually very few people about, just a few from the night shift finishing off their paperwork. He spotted his colleague and hockey teammate Lars across the room and waved. Lars smiled at him, his dark brown eyes lighting up. He raised his right hand, wiggling something at him. Seeing the coffee cup in Lars’ hand, he held up his own cup and nodded. Coffee would be good. As always. That was something Lucas was slowly getting used to. Swedish coffee. Or tar in a jar as he had dubbed it.
Turning on his computer to let it boot up, he looked over the papers lying on his desk, just to get an overview of what he was working on. His eyes fell on a framed picture on the right side of his desk. Chuckling quietly to himself, he reached out and traced the outline of Lucas’ smiling face.
The picture had been taken during the summer, the first time he took Lucas fly fishing. Life had been so incredibly good these past few months. Having Lucas’ cabin finished meant they could spend all their free time doing whatever they chose and one thing he had wanted to share with Lucas was the experience of fly fishing. It wasn’t a great passion, as for some guys he knew, more of an enjoyable pastime. He still wanted Lucas to experience the calm and the serenity of standing by the river waiting for a fish to bite.
Lars, who had become a great friend to them both by now, had tagged along and together they couldn’t stop laughing at Lucas’ attempts to cast the fly and have it actually land in the water, not on land. When it looked like Lucas had had enough of their taunts, Joel had managed to calm down and actually teach him how to do it. Thinking of the look on Lucas’ face when he ended up being the one who caught the biggest fish that day still made him smile. So proud, Lucas had insisted on having his picture taken holding the fish with Joel standing behind him looking like a Viking. Joel had felt silly standing there with his shirt off, arms across his chest looking grim, but to see Lucas smile like that made it worth the humiliation. He hadn’t thought about that particular picture ending up on Lucas’ Facebook which in turn meant it ended up on Lars’ Facebook which of course meant it ended up all over work. Still, coming into the office and finding many, many printouts of the picture all over his desk made him happy instead of angry. To him, it showed his colleagues truly didn’t care that he was living with a man. They treated him the same way they would any other colleague caught on camera doing silly stuff and they included Lucas without making a big deal out of it.
Now, a proper printed version was sitting on his desk for all to see. It made him happy to look at it and made it easier to focus on getting the job done so he could go home to Lucas.
“You coming? Or have you found something interesting online…?” Lars’ teasing voice brought him back to the present. Right. Coffee time. He walked into the small kitchen and was greeted by the warm, cozy smell of fresh coffee. Pouring himself a cup, he held it in both hands enjoying the warmth from the cup. He really needed to dig out his gloves.
“So are you guys on for the weekend?” Lars smiled at him.
“Of course. Do you think Lucas would miss out on a get-together? Besides, we’re both curious about this date of yours…” Joel raised an eyebrow, giving Lars a meaningful look.
Lars’ cheeks turned slightly pink and he broke out in a goofy smile. Joel started laughing.
“She’s that hot? Wow, now I really can’t wait!”
“Well, I don’t know… I guess…” Lars looked deep into his cup as if he was seeking the answer in there. “I mean, I think she’s great looking, but you probably wouldn’t…” When he realized what he had said he immediately tried to backpedal. “Not that you wouldn’t know if a woman was good looking or not just because… Oh, damn it! You know I didn’t mean it like that. I just don’t know what you find attractive in a woman…” Lars shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t worry. I know what you meant.” Joel took a sip.
“Well, it’s more than her looks. She’s just so funny and interesting and says things I never expect her to say. She makes me think and see things in a different way… And now I’m rambling.” His blush deepened as he shook his head at himself.
“Sounds like someone has it bad…” Joel couldn’t help teasing his friend.
“Shut up! It feels right, you know. Like we were simply waiting to meet all these years. Which doesn’t make sense.”
“But it does.” Joel turned serious, wanting to reassure his friend. “I felt the same about Lucas when we met. It was so clear to me he was the one right from the start.”
“Listen to us! We sound like two schoolgirls comparing boy band crushes…” Lars laughed. “I just didn’t expect to meet anyone like that, though. Felt a bit artificial to date via an app, but now I’m glad I decided to try it out.”
“You can find all kinds of great things on the internet these days…” Smiling at his own joke while hoping Lars didn’t ask him what he meant, Joel returned to his desk.
Sitting down, he felt a slight burn. He blushed as he remembered waking up that morning to a very horny and very hard Lucas rubbing up against him from behind.
“I need to fuck you…” Lucas had breathed rather than spoken the words against the nape of his neck, while he pawed at Joel’s briefs, pushing them down. As Joel had felt the by now familiar but still no less exhilarating surge of lust run through him, he had lifted his upper leg a little and allowed Lucas to penetrate him. Groaning, Lucas had pushed inside making him hiss and then moan, wordlessly begging for more. The leisurely morning fuck had set the mood for the day and put a smile on his face.
He still had a hard time believing someone like Lucas wanted to be with him, here at the end of the world. That’s what Lucas called Kiruna, so far up the north of Sweden, it was practically at the north pole. He had changed his tune somewhat during the late spring and early summer. Lucas had been in awe of the never-setting sun and the white nights. He suddenly realized why people actually lived up here, with the never-ending light making up for the darkness during the winter months.
Summer had been like a dream.
They had spent a week in May with Lucas’ parents visiting. Meeting them in the airport had been nerve wrecking, but Stephen and Janet had turned out to be very nice and supportive of their son and in continuation of Joel too. From the moment they got in the car together, they had been nothing but positive and curious about his home, even if they were tired from the long journey. There had been no jokes about polar bears or glaciers, but they had to get a few ones about Vikings out of their systems before they could get over how blond, tall and generally huge Joel was. He took it in stride, thinking things could have gone much worse, in case they had decided they wanted Lucas to come home. It was apparent they were a close family and Janet particularly expressed sadness over missing her youngest son terribly. He knew Lucas missed them too and also his brother and his family. It was the only cloud so far on their skies, Lucas being homesick. He and Lucas did their best to show Janet and Stephen all the best sights in and around Kiruna, making them feel like a tourist guide. It was fun to see their reactions to his home. Just like Lucas, they saw things he had never thought about and managed to make Kiruna all new again. One week passed all too quickly and Joel could tell Lucas was in a funk for a few days after they had left. He tried to cheer him up, but Lars advised him it would take some time and to simply give Lucas room to feel down. Since Lars had an uncanny ability to read people, making him the best interrogator in the station, Joel decided to so as he said and soon Lucas was back to his usual self.
Their own summer holiday in early July was spent at the cabin and also high up in the mountains, where Lars had a little summer lodge overlooking a narrow but deep lake teeming with fish. Lars let them borrow the lodge and the weeks they spent there were among the happiest in Joel’s life so far. Sitting outside together, him leaning back against Lucas’ chest engulfed in his arms during the white nights with a crackling fire nearby and Koda sleeping beside them was as close to heaven as Joel could imagine. Just to feel Lucas so close, his breath against his neck had him shivering, his need simmering just below the surface. Of course, they took the opportunity to have sex outdoors out in the open on the mountainside, another experience he would never forget. With no trees and no rocks, there was nothing stopping anyone from seeing them as Lucas pounded into him from behind, spreading his legs wider, holding him steady by his hips. Knowing how exposed he was made Joel moan deeper and thrust back harder, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Lucas who kept telling him how naughty he was, putting himself on display like that. Joel’s newly discovered desire for being watched was something Lucas wanted to explore further, even if Joel made attempts to smooth things over once he regained control of his senses after coming hard and being quite vocal about it.
Lucas, in turn, claimed he would never forget how many mosquito bites he got, especially after spending time out of their tent completely naked. It didn’t matter that Joel told him the number of mosquitos was nothing compared to the infestation in other parts of the north. Lucas still complained, scratching himself sore in places he really didn’t want to be sore.
In addition to hiking around in the mountains, they had of course spent time with Grandpa and Anita. The couple had come out to stay at the cabin with them on a couple of occasions. At first, it had been a bit uncomfortable living together with other people again, but after a few days they got to know Anita better and things got a lot easier. As weird as it seemed, the big breakthrough had come at breakfast one morning when the older couple had been exchanging glances and giggling but without telling them what was up. Finally, they let slip that they had heard the boys during the night. Joel immediately wanted to run out of the house with embarrassment, while Lucas had laughed so hard he cried. After that, there was no awkwardness big enough to compete and they could all relax, enjoying the summer.
Having people over happened a lot too. Joel could get a bit exhausted by all the socializing Lucas wanted to do, but in fairness, Lucas took care of everything from invitations to shopping and cooking. Joel only had to show up, eat some food and drink some beer. He was amazed at how people gravitated towards Lucas and wanted to be his friend. Some of it, as Lars pointed out, was of course due to the fact that he was new and new equaled interesting. Still, Lucas had a way of making friends that was astounding. It didn’t hurt that he always had plenty of beer for everyone. Joel tried to explain that people usually brought their own drinks, but Lucas only looked at him slightly horrified. Having people over and not offer them drinks was just not done. Lucas made it clear he didn’t care if some came just for drinks. He had fun and Joel had fun. What did a few more beers matter in the grand scheme of things? So Joel eventually got into it and just went with the flow. As a bonus, he got to know several of his colleagues in a different way than through work. If things got too intense, he would retreat with Koda, claiming he had to take her for a walk. Lucas let him go as if he instinctively knew his man’s need for quiet time. Sometimes, it amazed Joel how they didn’t need to speak to know these things. Maybe that was a sign of true love. He didn’t know for sure, but he did know that right now he couldn’t imagine life without Lucas.
“Joel, did you see this?” The boss was standing in the doorway to his room, holding out a piece of paper. His voice brought Joel out of his daydreaming. Since he couldn’t make out what the document was, he shook his head.
“They want more input on the ‘fighting drunk driving’ initiative. You usually have insightful things to say about stuff like this. Could you look it over and see if we can contribute? Maybe add our Kiruna perspective?” The boss sauntered over and handed him the paper. Joel took it and nodded.
“Great! Thanks! I don’t know what I would do without you.” The relief was evident and Joel guessed one less thing to do was always welcome.
The boss returned to his room and Joel could hear him start typing again. All that paperwork made him glad he wasn’t higher up in the food chain. Although, lately the boss had started asking him more and more for his opinion. It made him feel important in a way he hadn’t felt before, even if he tried to tell himself it was no different than before. It was, though. He had been so hesitant to speak up, but after seeing how Lucas didn’t apologize for speaking his mind he had started emulating that. It seemed to be working. Not only the boss but his colleagues too were noticing and from almost being on the outside he was now sort of the impromptu leader when he was working. He couldn’t help wondering if the intense socializing over the past few months had changed both him and his colleagues and how they viewed each other.
All throughout the day, he stayed focused on getting everything done quickly in order to be able to go home on time. They were having Grandpa and Anita over for dinner and he didn’t want to leave Lucas alone with preparing the food yet again. Lucas didn’t complain, but sometimes Joel couldn’t help but wonder if this was the life he had envisioned for himself. Essentially being the housewife of a cop in the Swedish outback. They’d even had a few ‘discussions’. Not fights exactly, but at times they could suddenly get so annoyed with one another and experiencing that scared Joel. He tried to tell himself it was only natural to disagree on things, even petty things like whether or not clothes had to be put in the hamper the very second they left the body (Lucas) or if cupboard doors could be left open for more than one minute (Joel).
He knew that in any relationship, there would be friction and they were in a relationship. Perhaps he was still so new to it and didn’t know what to expect. Lucas had told him about his few flings and boyfriends but had also stated he had never had anything quite like this. Sometimes, he could get a bit depressed and think that they were doomed due to inexperience. At those times, he clung to something Grandpa had said when he had noticed Joel being upset over arguing with Lucas.
“My boy, don’t worry so much about the future. Just ask yourself if the good outweigh the bad today. If the answer is yes, then keep going. Just make sure you realize what’s good and what’s bad…”
Joel knew the answer to that question in a heartbeat, which made it easier to swallow his pride and apologize if he had overreacted. To get Lucas to admit to being wrong was another thing altogether. He blamed his lawyer soul and said he needed more time to get comfortable saying he was sorry. Since he eventually got there, Joel let it slide. He was, however, beginning to realize what people meant when they said you had to work at a relationship. There were compromises. Not big ones yet, but Joel had a feeling they would get to those too.
To pass the time, Lucas was halfheartedly writing some sort of crime novel, but Joel could tell it wasn’t really what he wanted to do. He asked on occasion if Lucas missed practicing law, but only got evasive answers in return. He knew Lucas had contacted the university in Umeå to see if they had any need for a US lawyer, but so far there had been nothing.
The inactivity seemed to be getting to Lucas more and more. Joel didn’t know what to do about it and the situation made them irritable. All too often lately they snapped at each other and even if they apologized afterward Joel didn’t like it. He could understand Lucas was feeling useless and bored, especially since Kiruna wasn’t the liveliest place even in summer. The last few days, things had got even worse, with Lucas almost shutting down and shutting him out. It was clear he had something on his mind. Something serious. If Joel could just figure out what his man was thinking about, maybe he could make it better. He was afraid to ask though since he feared the answer would be something he couldn’t do anything about.
When he walked in the door, he could immediately tell something had happened. It wasn’t anything he could put his finger on, but Lucas was acting really weird. Even his kiss hello was different. At first, Joel thought he was stressed out over dinner, but when it turned out they were having barbecue steaks and oven fries he knew that wasn’t it. Lucas could cook that in his sleep. They went about preparing the food, moving about the kitchen like satellites in orbit never crossing each other’s path. Just doing what needed to be done without even talking. Eventually, Joel had enough.
“What’s wrong?” He looked at Lucas, who flinched but kept working on the salad he was making. “Come on. I know something is up. Just tell me.”
Lucas turned towards him and hesitated. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, the door opened too and Grandpa came in. They heard Anita outside talking to the taxi driver, arranging for a pickup time. Lucas seemed to change his mind and, instead of saying anything, he put the knife down to go greet their guests. Reaching out and grabbing Lucas’ arm, Joel spoke quietly.
“This isn’t over. I want to know what’s going on.”
Lucas just shrugged him off with an apologetic smile and left the kitchen.
The evening turned out pleasant enough, even if Joel couldn’t get Lucas’ weird behavior out of his mind. Grandpa told them he and Anita were going to move in together, exchanging their smaller apartments for a bigger one. The news put them all in a very good mood and they spent a good deal of the evening making plans for the upcoming move.
After saying goodbye to the older couple and seeing them off in a taxi, Joel returned inside and his thoughts returned to the interrupted conversation before dinner. Walking to the kitchen, he couldn’t see Lucas and assumed he had gone into the living room. When that turned out to be empty too, he went upstairs. He finally found Lucas sitting on the bed, holding his phone. The expression on his face had Joel go cold inside. ‘He’s leaving me’, went through his mind and the thought filled him with immediate sadness. For a moment, he wanted to turn and run, as if that would prevent the inevitable. Swallowing hard, he instead decided to face whatever this was head-on.
“Lucas, what’s going on?”
“Oh, hi…” Lucas looked at him with a hesitant expression in his eyes. He could tell there was something serious on his mind and waited for Lucas to continue. There was only silence.
“You have to talk to me. Whatever is going on I know we can work at it. Fix it.” Joel could feel himself get upset and tried to force his emotions under control. Could this be it? Little over nine months together and now it was over?
“What? What are you talking about?” Lucas seemed confused. He probably didn’t think Joel suspected what was up.
“If you want out, then I think you should tell me.” Saying the words had Joel’s throat constricting with desperately held back emotion. He felt his control slip bit by bit as his world was falling apart in front of him.
“Out? What are you talking about?” Lucas maintained his look of confusion.
“I’m not stupid! I know you’ve been thinking about something! I know you’re not happy here, with nothing to do! I…” The words were flooding out of him now, impossible to stop once he had started.
Lucas got up from the bed and grabbed Joel’s arms, standing in front of him.
“Joel, slow down! You’re not making any sense!” He let his hands caress Joel’s arms in a slow movement. “What do you mean I’m not happy? I’ve never been this happy before. I love you, you know that.”
“But you’ve been acting so strange. You don’t have to pretend nothing is wrong. I know we can fix it! Whatever it is! Please, Lucas!” Joel wasn’t above begging if that would sway things in his favor.
“Nothing is wrong.” Lucas hesitated. “I got an email from one of the partners a few days ago.”
Joel waited for Lucas to continue, but he grew silent once more.
“And? Why have you been all weird about that?” Joel knew he kept in touch with his previous employer and the friends he had at the firm, so an email shouldn’t make him act so strange.
“They want me to come back to help out on a case, a trial starting in October.” Lucas lowered his eyes to the floor. ”It concerns a business deal I worked on with Roger, a merger between two companies. The deal apparently went sour just before closing and now they are facing litigation. With Roger gone and me over here, there’s no one with the in-depth knowledge from our side about the original deal and the discussions between the parties. So they need me.”
“But you said you didn’t want to work there anymore?” Joel stared intently at Lucas. The silence between them said all he needed to know. “But you do, don’t you?”
“Yes.” The whispered word cut through him. Lucas finally lifted his eyes and looked at him. “I want to go back.”
Joel felt his body lose all its strength and he would have fallen to the floor if he hadn’t been sitting down.
Lucas was leaving.