Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: For some reason, this has an inordinate amount of smoking in it. Boy sex. Tree sex. Het sex! Voyeurism. Swearing. No betas. You know, I didn't think I could write anything more about these people, and I was right. I started writing this because I wanted to write a scene with tree fort sex in it, and they seemed amenable to the idea. I finished this and realized that this is the exact SAME story as "Say Anything." Which proves to me my theory that sometimes you have only one thing to say about a set of characters. So a warning: you've read this before, just the words are moved around in a different order.

It was that slow part of the late afternoon just before closing time. The season was nearly over, the tourists down to a trickle. A good thing because school had started up, and Emily could only help out in the early morning. Something had happened with the boyfriend, but she didn't have a clue what. Just that Emily worked at the diner without complaining and spent most of her summer nights curled up in front of the television watching DVDs. Emily wasn't the confiding sort, which hurt Sandra's feelings, and she guessed this was pretty obvious because Duck pulled her aside one day and said out of the blue, "This isn't about her not trusting you, Sandra. Let it go."

So she did.

Sort of.

The ferry was now running the fall schedule. She'd already packed away her summer clothes, but had drawn the line at wearing turtlenecks. It's impossible to look sexy in a turtleneck. Not that there was any one looking these days, but, Jesus Christ, she wasn't giving up the ghost yet. Thank God the weather had turned, because she couldn't manage lunch by herself in full season. Irene was hinting that she needed work and Sandra needed help, but Sandra told her flat out that until she stopped those homophobic mutterings she always made behind Dan's back, hell would freeze over before Sandra would give her a job. Irene's finances couldn't have been too dire because she called Dan a "disgusting faggot" earlier that week, and Sandra kicked her out for the fourth time that month. Funnily enough, Irene never trashed Duck. Which made no sense, because if Dan was being queer, he was being queer with Duck, but maybe Sandra was the whacked one for expecting irrational behavior to be rational.

She and Emily would be celebrating their first Christmas on Wilby. Jury was still out on whether coming back was a good idea.

Wilby was a small place and downright claustrophobic during the winter months. She and Buddy French didn't exactly end their affair on great terms, but the one thing about living in a small town was that you couldn't let that stuff interfere. He still came into the diner every day at eleven. Shared a cup of coffee with her while she got ready for the lunch crowd. Gossiped with her while she cut up tomatoes and onions for the burgers. Claimed he still didn't know who'd sprayed "whore" on the back door of the diner. Which was a goddamned lie because they both knew it was Irene.

It was too small a place to carry a whole lot of baggage, and she liked the company. She liked him, truth be told. Liked him enough that it wouldn't take much for her to fall in love with him. Again. But she was not going there. Again. Most of high school had been devoted to carrying a torch for Buddy French, and a majority of the guys she'd fucked were because he wasn't interested in her. It was kind of a, "Fuck you, Buddy; other guys want me." Joke was on her, because he couldn't have cared less, while she got labeled the town slut. In hindsight, their brief affair was all kinds of stupid, and she should thank her lucky stars it ended before it really got started. Considering what a pushover she had been. When she was younger. Then. Not now.

"Look at Sandra; wonder what she's thinking?" asked Dan.

Sandra stood with her back to the grill, staring off into space. She wasn't taking any more orders this late in the day, so she was probably standing there because the grill was still warm enough to give off a little heat. Duck had known Sandra all his life, and he saw loneliness and ache. But what he said was, "She's probably just zoning out because she's tired. She opens up pretty early." Not that Dan didn't know that. "Penny for them, Sandra," he shouted across the empty diner.

"That's all they're worth," she replied with a grimace. Duck figured he'd better call Emily and see if Sandra was drinking herself to sleep again. "You guys need a refill?"

They both nodded eagerly.

Dan was taking a break from the video store before the early evening rush, and Duck was warming up. He'd spent the day replacing Mrs. Bradley's gutters. A nasty wind from the north had come in last night and standing up on a ladder for five hours made for pretty cold work. If it stayed any longer, none of trees would have any leaves left, and there'd go their fall color. And the last of the tourists with it.

They were sitting at their favorite table, which was wedged in an out of the way corner near the radiators. It might have been a little dark, but it was warm, and they could sit there and be fairly inconspicuous. Dan wasn't much for public displays of affection, but hidden away in this corner, Duck could hold Dan's hand without Dan getting all twitchy.

Duck didn't mind. He knew it wasn't personal. It had taken him a good ten years, and a lot of that spent tanked to the eyeballs on Jack, to get to the point where he could look someone in the eye and say, "I'm gay." It wasn't that long ago that Dan had put a noose around his neck so that he wouldn't have to say those words. Not even to himself. Duck didn't push it. Hanging yourself is a lot quicker and more efficient than drinking yourself to death, but Duck figured that in the end it was pretty much the same thing. Wanting to kill yourself because you liked dick.

Even though the newspaper hadn't printed any names, it really didn't matter. Everyone knew who was on the list anyway. The usual M.O. of living in a small town. Combine that with living on an island, and it was amazing that they weren't printing the number of dumps people took in a given week.

Duck had spent a good portion of the spring and summer reassuring people he had no intention of molesting their kids. There were a couple of people who probably would never talk to him again. Fine. They could pay someone from the Mainland to come over on the ferry and charge eight times what he charged. By and large, most people wouldn't look him in the eye for a couple of months, then figured out that he was the same guy he had been last year and the year before that and the year before that. Still, it was a pain in the ass. His family had been on this island just as long as the Frenches had, and here he was trying to re-establish himself in a community MacDonalds had homesteaded back in the 1850s. It sucked. Ten years ago this would have had him cradling a bottle of booze for a week. Now he knew it was part and parcel of the whole homo gig. He smiled and treated folks like he always had, ignoring the stray comment that came his way. If he'd been a religious man, he'd have gotten down on his knees and thanked God for Dan, because most nights he'd come home and the house would smell like someone was cooking for him and that someone would put a hot cup of coffee in his hand and then ask him if he was okay and he would wrap his hands around the mug and see the concerned look on Dan's face and found that he could say, "Yeah, I'm fine," and actually mean it.

Sometimes late at night, he'd lie in bed, listening to Dan's gentle snore, and wonder what in the fuck was the matter with people. Like he had any choice in the matter? Christ, didn't people get it? Why in the hell would you choose to be a social pariah? Duck had problems, but he wasn't masochistic.

His exchange with Irene was the nadir.

Shortly after the whole Watch crap, Irene called him to ostensibly put up her storm windows, but since it was July and as hot as fuck, he figured he was going to have to listen to her homophobic diatribe about how she'd never hire him again because he was a perverted cock-sucker. What wrapping your lips around a guy's dick had to do with installing weather stripping around someone's windows Duck couldn't fathom, but he had no doubt that Irene would find a connection.

He didn't want to hear it.

"Irene, I'm not going to listen to your shit. I've got as much choice in this matter as you did having an asshole for a father. It wasn't your fault that he beat the shit out of you. Nothing you did made you deserve that. And it's not my fault I want to fuck guys. I just do. It's like having blue eyes. I came this way. Now you do want those windows done or not?"

She pursed her lips for a good long while and then said, "I don't understand."

"Well, join the club." Duck threw his hands up in the air. "It is what it is, Irene."

"He said I was ugly. A face only a mother could love."

That came out of left field. Or not, given Irene's near constant state of rage. Duck hadn't felt this sort of hatred in a long time. And when he had it had been directed at himself.

"That's such bullshit, Irene! You're going to take as gospel the word of a man who breaks his kid's jaw because he lost a few hands of poker?"

The town knew that Jack MacKenzie had busted Irene's jaw after an all night poker game in which he'd lost over two hundred dollars. Irene's mother lied and told the doctor that Irene had fallen down a flight of stairs. Which was technically true, because Irene had been standing at the top of the stairs when her father clocked her in response to her asking, "Everything okay, Daddy?"

Not that anybody believed Sue MacKenzie, because the woman was always "walking into doors" and "falling down stairs" herself. But being a small town, people ponied up to pay for Irene to see a specialist. While Sue and Irene were on the Mainland getting Irene's jaw wired, Buddy's father gathered up a bunch of people and went over to the MacKenzie's house. He told Jack that if he ever touched Irene or Sue again, he'd take the butt end of a rifle to his head and beat him with it until Jack's brains leaked out his ears. The physical abuse stopped, but the verbal shit nobody could stop.

"Forget the windows. Kitchen sink's leaking," Irene mumbled out of the side of her mouth and turned her head so Duck wouldn't see her crying.

Duck tucked a handkerchief in Irene's hand on his way out the door. "I'll get my wrench. Be back in a sec," he called back to her.

Carol was smoking again. You'd think that this would make Buddy feel better, having a co-idiot lighting up next to him. But it didn't, because Carol being Carol, it was a sign that she was about to have a nervous breakdown or leave him. Probably both. Every night he'd come home surprised to see that she was still there, and, for the life of him, Buddy couldn't figure out why. Probably nothing more than that devil-you-know shit. They would lie in bed at night, not touching, smoking in silence, and it was all he could do not to scream at her, "Will you just get on the noon ferry tomorrow and put both of us out of our misery? I'll drive you there myself."

He couldn't remember the last time they had sex. He didn't count that horrible, truly awful night shortly after Dan tried to hang himself, when Carol assumed that she needed to atone for her greed by sucking Buddy off. He actually thought that she wanted him until he snaked a hand under the elastic of her panties and ran a thumb over her. She was so dry that she flinched. Or she couldn't stand him touching her. He pulled away without a word, got up, put on some boxers, climbed back into bed, and lit a cigarette. When she reached over him he had a fleeting hope that he'd been wrong, that she was going to roll on top of him. No. She was reaching for the pack of cigarettes on his nightstand. He was enough of a gentleman to give her a light, even though what he really was itching to do was mash that cigarette into her face.

He'd really resented it when Carol had quit. Which was ridiculously childish, he knew, but he couldn't help feel that there was a tacit reprimand there. Which was entirely reasonable because only a total fucking moron wouldn't know that he was flirting big time with cancer. He'd wished she'd done it because he was now up to two packs a day and her quitting was a way of saying, "Hey, this is stupid. Let's quit together."

It wasn't anything like that.

When he asked her why she quit, she said, "It's not the image I want to project now that I'm a real estate agent."

He didn't say anything—just lit up another one—although it was on the tip of his tongue to snap back, "Although smoking when you were a grade school teacher; that's a hell of an image."

Smoking—not counting his brief affair with Sandra—was the only questionable activity he'd done in years. Sometimes he was so fucking sick of being good. Always doing the right thing. He wasn't wired for anything else, so the rational part of his brain was trying to figure out what his beef was, but the irrational part whined why couldn't he smoke and not feel like he was committing a crime just one notch above murder. Jesus, wasn't he allowed one vice? Everyone around him had vices. Was Buddy French some sort of freaking saint?

He'd started smoking when he was seventeen for that very reason. The weight of being a French, the report card with never anything less than an A-, the student body presidency year after year, with no opposition. He once tried to talk Duck into running against him. Which made Duck laugh so hard that tears ran down his face.

"Buddy, don't be ridiculous. Everyone wants you to be president. You do a damn fine job," Duck reminded him when he'd finally stopped laughing.

Buddy's response was to grab the pack of cigarettes out of Duck's pocket, shake one out, stick it in his mouth, and ordered Duck to light it.

Duck hesitated.

"Goddamit, Duck. Light this fucking thing."

"Sure, Buddy. You want to be a stupid ass, be my guest. I'm a fucking slave to these… Whatever Buddy French wants, Buddy French gets," Duck sneered.

Buddy was half tempted to sock him for that. But Duck brought his hand up and flicked his lighter open. Buddy leaned forward to catch the light, but Duck didn't move; he just stared at the cigarette in Buddy's mouth. Right about the time Buddy was ready to snatch the lighter from Duck's hand, Duck brought the flame up to the end of the cigarette. Duck's hand was shaking. Buddy was about to ask what in the hell was going on when the flame caught the tobacco and Buddy inhaled. Duck killed the lighter and they sat there in the dark, smoking, listening to the waves hitting the shore, the sand under their palms growing cold as the night got older.

One week before Buddy was to get married, the phone rang. Carol and Buddy hadn't been out of school that long and were living in a tiny little apartment in Toronto with a view of the lake. Its proximity to the water was Carol's answer to Buddy's increasing sense of claustrophobia and pleas to move back to Wilby. Buddy had just walked in the door, saw Carol unwrapping a bunch of wedding presents that had arrived that day, when the phone rang. He really didn't want to talk to anyone until after he'd at least taken off his tie, but when Carol yelled, "Get that, will you, Buddy?" he did. To his tired, "Yeah?" some drunk yelled, "Fuck you" and hung up.

He didn't know it was Duck until several years later after he and Carol had returned to the Island. It was Christmas Eve and in an eerie sort of deja vu moment, Carol was wrapping presents and the phone rang. "Buddy, will you get that?" she mumbled around the tape dispenser in her mouth. Buddy has just returned from some last minute Christmas shopping of his own and really didn't feel like answering the phone, but he did. It was Duck, shit-faced, wishing him a Merry Christmas. He talked Duck through the making of some really strong coffee and the drinking of said coffee. They chit-chatted about the Island and what was going on and Buddy becoming a cop and Carol giving up teaching to become a real estate agent and how Buddy's mom was dying and how Duck was living in Vancouver and it was wet and he didn't like it very much and yeah he was hammered. By the end of the conversation Duck wasn't slurring any more. No matter, Buddy knew it had been Duck telling him to fuck off all those years ago. Tip off should have been Duck being a no-show at Buddy's wedding, even though they had promised each other at their high school graduations that they'd be each other's best man. No matter what.

In hindsight, Buddy couldn't believe that they'd both been that naive. That innocent.

Sandra flipped the sign to "Closed." She'd filled their cups and told them to drink up because she was out the door in ten minutes. After hauling out the garbage, she leaned against the back door and instead of reaching for a cigarette, she pressed two closed fists to her eyes. This was happening lately. A sudden, inexplicable urge to burst into tears. She fought it back and decided she could smoke at home just as well. It was freezing out.

They didn't hear her come back into the diner because Dan would never let Duck kiss him if he knew Sandra was in the room. It wasn't a dirty kiss, no. Conversely, that's what made it so hot. Duck would lean in, nip once at Dan's mouth, lean back, look at Dan's face, lean back in, change the angle slightly and kiss him again. Just the sort of tender kisses you gave to someone you were in love with. Sandra eased her way out of the kitchen again and fumbled with her lighter for what seemed like ten minutes. She heard Duck shout, "Later, Sandra." She had another cigarette, even though she was shivering like crazy, went in, lowered the blinds, and had her cry anyway.

She'd promised herself last week she wouldn't spy on them ever again, but even at the time she knew that was a lie. Yeah, tonight. Fortunately, it was near the full moon.

Buddy wasn't that hungry, but he'd eaten the microwavable stir-fry Carol had put in front of him without a complaint.

"Dan Jarvis moved out today. Moving in with Duck."

Buddy had spent his lunch hour helping them load up the truck. The sum total of Dan Jarvis' possessions included a large-screen T.V., a DVD player, a futon, six boxes of kitchen equipment, a dresser, and a suitcase, all of which fitted into the back of Duck's truck. One trip worth.


Somehow he'd thought that would have been met with a little more anxiety—they'd never get another renter until the spring at the earliest—or some commentary on how Dan had been living at Duck's anyway, more or less, for the past two months, so no surprise there.


Buddy had pulled his mother's house off the market after Dan's suicide attempt and offered it to Dan. He could stay there until he got back on his feet. Rent free. Carol didn't say anything when he told her about his idea. No arguments about how this was the prime-selling season, etc. No real estate agent mumbo jumbo. Which pleased him, because with all this Watch nonsense, Dan needed some support from the community, and he was relieved (and a little surprised) that Carol was on board with this. It wasn't until Dan had accepted and moved in that she commented on how smart Buddy was, offering the place to Dan. It would undermine any lawsuit Dan might bring against Carol.

He couldn't even respond to that without saying something unspeakably cruel, so he said nothing. He marched over to the video store and practically begged Dan to sue them, because he hadn't offered his mother's place as anything more than a helping hand. Dan needed a place to stay, the house was empty, and he'd never wanted to sell it. In fact, he loved that house, and putting it on the market was an enormous mistake. So Dan was actually doing him a tremendous favor, and Dan could stay there as long as he liked. If he wanted to sue them, great.

Dan laughed and told him not to worry, that he had no intention of suing them. Carol didn't put the noose around his neck, he had. He probably wouldn't stay in the house too much longer, because he and Duck Dan's voice trailed off, followed by an intense blush.

Buddy sat there, twirling his wineglass, watching the wine circling the bottom of the glass, and thought about how he hadn't said anything to Carol at the time. How he didn't know her anymore and he didn't think he wanted to know her. He truly had believed in all that "death do us part" stuff. At least he had at the time. But now?

He didn't know he was going to say it before he blurted out, "I'm moving in." Which was a not so subtle way of saying he was moving out.

All she did was nod, push her uneaten dinner to the side, grab her wineglass, and go into the kitchen. He didn't know what expression he had on his face, but on her face there was nothing but relief.

He sat there for a couple of hours smoking. Listening to Carol putz around in the kitchen. It sounded like she was washing every single frigging pot they owned. He lit one after the other, smoking them down until he could taste the burnt filter. Then he realized that she was puttering around in the kitchen because she didn't want to face him again. If she wanted to go upstairs, she had to cut through the dining room. The petty side of Buddy French thought about parking his ass there for another couple of hours. The sensible part of him realized that if he spent one more second in that house, he'd start puking his guts up. And it had nothing to do with the cigarettes he'd been inhaling for the last two hours. He slammed the door behind him, raided the garage for a sleeping bag, and was driving over to his mother's house when he caught a glimpse of Sandra Anderson making her way through the trees.

When Sandra was a kid on Wilby there weren't Game Boys or satellite T.V. or computer games. You spent most of your childhood roaming around the Island, regardless of the weather. Wilby wasn't that big—you could hear the pounding of the surf from any point on the Island—so by the time you were ten, you knew the terrain. Even today, she bet someone could blindfold her, spin her around three times, and still she could find her way to any house on the Island.

Which is why she walked with such confidence and no flashlight. True, it was nearly a full moon, but even if there hadn't been, she really didn't need any light. She neatly skirted the ditch near the McClure's property, jumped over the stile at the Haig's place, and didn't even bother rolling up her pant legs when she crossed the pond at back of Irene's property. This time of the year, there wasn't any water in it.

The oak in front of Duck's house was one of the oldest trees on the Island. The tree fort that Duck's father had built for him was still there, the toeholds a little worn but still good. If anyone had been watching, they would have mistaken her for a much younger woman, maybe even a large child, so easily did she climb up into branches and maneuver to just the right spot.

Duck's family had owned this place outright since Lord knows when. Good thing that Duck was a simple man with simple tastes, because the taxes on this land probably ate a majority of what he earned. He hadn't been reduced to selling off portions of it yet, and his hundred acres gave him a nice buffer from his neighbors. Which meant Duck never bothered to draw the curtains. With the added bonus that they liked to watch each other so they kept the lights on.

She wasn't too late. They were just undressing each other. They tended to eat late, and then sit talking at the table. Emily had needed help organizing the cakewalk for Homecoming, and it took all of Sandra's patience not to snap at her. When they'd finished up, Sandra then told Emily she needed some fresh air. Emily thought that was code for going down to Eddie's and having a few shots of tequila. And she said so. Sandra denied it. She ignored Emily's roll of the eyes, and grabbed her down jacket on her way out the door. It would be cold tromping through the fields to Duck's place.

In his own environment with no censoring eyes, Dan was very affectionate. Ran his hand through Duck's hair every time he passed Duck's chair. Stood behind Duck, nibbling on his neck while Duck finished up the dishes. Duck was one of those early to bed, early to rise types; they didn't stay up late.

Duck was naturally slender, with no hips and not much of a butt, but years of hauling roofing tiles and lumber and baling wire had had its effect. He wasn't so much buff, as wiry and taut. One night Dan had spent ten minutes laving Duck's biceps, sucking on his tattoo, running his hands over and over the muscles. If someone had asked her if Duck was hung, she'd have replied, "Oh yeah, baby. Oh yeah."

Sandra considered herself something of an expert on dicks; given the number she'd put in her mouth.

Dan was long and lean, with a surprisingly pert little ass. His dick was average, and he didn't have that tight, wiry thing going on that Duck did, but he moved with a grace in bed that Duck lacked. Duck tended to be a slam, bang, thank you, ma'am type of fucker.

Sandra had watched them enough to know their routines. That Dan liked to blow Duck first, then tongue Duck's ass—even though she was quite a ways away, she could hear Duck's moans through the glass—then fuck him. Most of the time Duck was the one being fucked—he liked it from behind—which surprised Sandra at first. But when you thought about it, Duck wasn't much of a taker, and fucking was about taking someone, even when you loved them.

When Duck did fuck Dan, it was always face to face, because Duck was a kisser. He'd like to sneak in a few swipes of the tongue even as he held Dan's legs back for the fuck. Of course, once he got his rhythm going there wasn't much kissing involved, but he'd still manage to get a fair number in before his dick started making demands. He kissed Dan in the strangest places. He'd nuzzle Dan's armpits, the back of his knees, and nip at inside of his elbows.

Something special was going on tonight. The foreplay was gentle and prolonged; a lot of smiles and more than their usual amount of talking. And then there was no talking. The passion just took off. The sex wasn't rough, but it was intense, and at one point, Sandra could see Duck crying and trying to shield this from Dan and Dan stopping the action and cradling Duck in his arms. She was so intent on watching them and wondering what in the hell was going on that she didn't hear Buddy French.

She heard a startled, "What the fuck?" in her ear.

If Buddy hadn't grabbed her arm, she would have tumbled out of the tree.

"What in the hell are you doing?" he demanded in a whisper.

She turned around, put a finger to her lips, and then turned back around. Oh. Oh. Dan was pushing into Duck. She could see Duck's hands tightening around the brass of the headboard as Dan worked his dick into his ass. Buddy yanked on her arm, but she ignored him.

By now they knew each other's bodies, and Dan angled up immediately, getting it right the first time. You could tell because he bucked back into Dan, begging for more of the same. As the fucking became deeper, harder, and Duck spread his legs even more, Dan reached for Duck's cock and began to fist him in time to his thrusts. At that Buddy hissed and let go of her arm. Pushing on her shoulder to scoot her forward, he climbed in behind her. He shoved her jacket up above her hips and pulled her back tight against him so that he could get some friction against her backside, his erection solid against her jeans. Then he unzipped Sandra's jacket, slipped a hand under her tee-shirt, found a nipple, and began worrying it. She braced an arm against the wall of the fort to anchor them and then rammed her ass against him; he began humping against her in time to Dan's rhythm. She brought the edge of her palm against the seam of her jeans and pushed.

It normally took a bit more than this to bring her off, but when Buddy began kissing her neck, sucking on that curve right where her shoulder started, whispering her name, that was it. He followed closely after that.

She lay slumped against him, eyes closed, relishing the aftermath, the peace, Buddy's hand cupping her breast. It had been a long time since a man had touched her with such reverence. In fact, the last man to do so had been Buddy French. She was so fucked. This was the last place to have a nervous breakdown, so instead of chastising herself for being a total idiot, she answered back his sigh of contentment with one of her own.

When she opened her eyes, the other lovers were lying together, eyes closed, savoring their own shared peace. Dan had pulled Duck so that they lay on their sides, spooned against each other, ass to groin, back to chest. She knew that they would fall asleep in a minute, but there was one more thing she needed to see. If Dan was fucking Duck, he would do it. If Duck was fucking Dan, he would do it. Sure enough, Dan kissed the back of Duck's head and Duck reached over and turned off the light.

Buddy seemed to accept the fact that she was the expert on being the voyeur here, because he didn't move until she gave the signal.

When they were far enough away from the house so they couldn't be heard, he said in a low voice, "The diner?"

"If you want," she replied, a bit testy. Because she had no intention of making any apologies or justifying her actions. Buddy French could just fuck himself.

She didn't bother turned on the lights, just flicked on her lighter and led the way to the back where Dan and Duck usually sat. She put two cigarettes in her mouth, lit them, handed him one, then lit the candle on the table. In that deep shadowed light she looked both very young and old.

He took a puff and then couldn't contain himself.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing? Spying on them like that?"

"Fuck off, Buddy. I mean it."


"Look," she interrupted and took one furious drag on her cigarette before stamping it out. "These things are going to fucking well kill me. Okay, it's not what you think. I'm not getting my rocks off."

"Oh yeah? Felt like rocks getting off to me."

"That's because you were there," she hissed and shoved the ashtray toward him with such force that he had to reach out and stop it before it fell into his lap.

If anyone had told him that two guys making it was hot as all hell, he would have told them they were full of shit. He'd never been interested in doing guys, and when other men came on to him, he just brushed them off. It was never even in his radar. Part of why it was knocking-your-socks-off sex was because he was making it with a woman in a tree, for Christ's sake—it doesn't get more novel than that—but he couldn't deny the lighter fluid was Duck and Dan. Which just fucked up his conviction that he was, like, a zero on the Kinsey scale.

"Don't get all high and mighty on me. You could have left when you saw what was going on."

Which he couldn't deny.

"Great, we're both perverted, but—"

"If I want to watch porn, I'll rummage through that box of DVDs Dan keeps behind the register, okay? One day I'd just hauled the garbage back to the dumpster. I'd already closed up, so the diner was empty except for them. They didn't hear me come in. They were sitting at this very table, forehead to forehead, nuzzling each other. It was unbearably sweet. I got curious. Was it the same as a man and a woman? Did they fight and make-up and tease and laugh with each other?"

Buddy still didn't get it. "Why wouldn't they?"

"I wanted to know for sure!" she said with a stubborn tilt to her chin. "So I went out to Duck's place one night with some leftover pie I hadn't sold. Which was a bunch of bullshit, because I probably could have served it one more day. But I didn't. You know that Duck never pulls the curtains and there they were. In the kitchen making out. All over each other. Then Duck threw Dan down on the table and they humped against each other until they both came. I… It was wonderful."

"Still sounds like rocks getting off to me," Buddy noted.

"Shows how much you know." She made a threatening gesture with the hand holding her cigarette. "I left there crying like a fucking baby and you know what did it? Afterward, Duck pulled Dan up off the table and hugged him. Just hugged him, like Dan was his lifeline. And then Dan kissed the top of Duck's head. That's what I go there for. The hug, the kiss on the cheek. All those little gestures that are so far from a fuck…" She cupped Buddy's chin in her palm, so that he couldn't turned away from her, so that he had to see her face.

"I go there to watch them make love. Because that's what they were doing tonight. I want that. I deserve that, and I'm so far away from getting that, it's driving me crazy. I go watch because I don't have that in my life and if someone else has it, then there's hope for me. And I need to believe that, Buddy, otherwise I might as well put my head in that oven and turn on the gas."

He turned and kissed her palm.

"Don't," she ordered and pulled back her hand.

"What? Fifteen minutes ago—"

"That was a mistake. Last time I looked you were married. Don't do this to me, Buddy. I didn't come back here to be the town whore, the sequel."

He studied her face it was hard and unyielding. He remembered when they were kids and how she'd push herself trying to beat him at sports. She wasn't a natural athlete, but she had guts and was fearless, and sometimes she'd best him. Not often, but every once in a while. Then one summer all those angles softened into ripe curves and she started playing different games.

"I'm not… Why did you come back?" he asked. He knew that they were both thinking of Irene spray painting "whore" on the back door of the diner. How as much as he might deny it, a lot of people thought that. What with her hanging out the windows in the morning in her lingerie and pounding back the shots while flirting with the guys down at Eddie's. Not that it mattered. Wilby had a long memory. She could have shown up in a nun's habit and the town would be primed to label her a slut the minute her foot hit the dock. As onerous it was sometimes being a French, it was a piece of cake compared to being an Anderson.

Her hands fumbled with her cigarettes. He returned the favor and lit one for her.

"Too many men, too many nights drinking myself to sleep. And I missed the ocean. How you can hear the surf anytime you want by just opening your window. I wanted Emily to hear that." She took a deep drag and gave him a tight smile before letting the smoke out in a rush. "It seemed a good idea at the time," she said with a little of her usual sass. "Why'd you come back?"

Buddy didn't need to think about that at all. He'd asked himself that question many times. Especially when he saw that the Islanders didn't like Carol all that much. How they just put up with her because of him. He didn't like her very much these days, but he did feel sorry for her. Shortly after they'd moved back, she began ranting and raving about how insular and incestuous Wilby was. How the Chandlers had lived there thirty years and they were considered the "new" people in town. He couldn't disagree. But at the same time, no one liked the Chandlers, so it maybe it was wishful thinking on the part of the community. That they'd become disgusted at their perennial "newcomer" status and leave. At her indignant question, "So what does that mean for me?", he assured her that since she was a French by marriage, all the standard prejudices didn't apply. Which was sort of a lie and sort of not. People listed their houses with her because she was a good agent, but Buddy never got the sense she was well liked. People invited them over for dinner and then ignored her.

"I missed the ocean too. I missed how you could call up pretty much anyone on the phone and ask for a favor and they do it for you, no questions asked. How you could actually see the stars at night. The salty smell of fish when the boats come back from their run and dump their loads on the dock. Lobsters caught that morning, cooked over a fire that night. The people mostly. And my mother was dying and needed me. I came back and once here I couldn't leave again. Probably put the nails in the coffin of my marriage when I told Carol I wanted to stay, but you know?" He looked around the diner. "When I was a kid, I used to come here with my dad on Saturday mornings and we'd have breakfast together so my mom could sleep in."

"Your dad was a nice guy."

Buddy nodded. "Yeah, he was."

His father had died young, which meant he was the "man" of the house at fourteen, which exacerbated in a million ways his overwhelming sense of obligation and duty. Whenever his father would see Sandra, he would never fail to ask, "Buddy, who's that gorgeous girl?" Once out of Sandra's earshot, Buddy would repeatedly beg him to stop saying that. He and Sandra had been born in the same hospital not a week apart. One day his father pulled him aside and reamed Buddy but good. That given her home life, Sandra probably didn't get many compliments in her life, so what was the harm?

"Why…" he began and let it drop.


"Why all the guys?"

She stubbed out her cigarette, mashing it into the glass slowly, as if exhausted. She tilted her head.

"Fog must be coming in. Hear the lighthouse? You know, normally someone asks me that question I slap their face for them. You knew my mother. Looking back, I'd say I was doing the same thing I'm doing in that tree. Looking for love. Not that I knew that at fifteen, but I was young and stupid, and I thought when someone said I was pretty it was because they loved me, not because they were horny. Took me a long time to realize that. On some level I still believe it when it's said to me, even though I've got enough disappointment in that department to last six lifetimes. Seems I've been reduced to watching other people have it. You going to arrest me?"

He shook his head.

"Then I'll see you tomorrow. I got to get up in the morning."

She made to get up. Panicked, Buddy grabbed her hand.

"Don't. We can have that. What Duck and Dan have."


Duck stood at the open window, a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. Dan could see the butt end burning bright, bobbing up and down as Duck inhaled and exhaled.

Dan still wasn't sure about all this. Even as he was moving in his stuff, he had a brief moment of panic whether or not this was wise. Oh, he had no worries about Duck. Jeez, if he'd been half as confident about Val's love, he'd have never have kept his bi-sexuality a secret. Or his homosexuality. Still trying to figure that one out. He was the one he worried about. This sort of power over another was strange to him. When he was married, Val said jump, he said how high. Went with the tide. The only active thing he'd ever done was to insist on moving to Wilby. Everything else was pretty much whatever. This china pattern? Sure. Those wine glasses? Yeah, they're nice. That promotion? Go for it. And then he jeopardized all that respectability in one night. Did Duck know what he was doing? Putting all his chips on some guy who cheated on his wife with strangers and then was such a total incompetent that he couldn't even commit suicide properly?

"Hey, sorry," Duck growled in a voice battered by too many cigarettes and not enough sleep. "Didn't mean to wake you, but I could hear the lighthouse. Fog must be moving in."

He stubbed out his cigarette and came to bed.

"Oh, you're freezing," complained Dan and pulled him closer. "Something bothering you?"

Dan waited for the "think this moving in idea is not so good." For the "maybe you should talk to Buddy about staying a few more weeks at his mother's house." What he said was, "I'm worried about Sandra. She's looking desperate and sad. A bad combo with her."

Dan didn't know what to say. He didn't know Sandra very well. Only bits and pieces he'd heard from Duck, and the occasional slander from Irene (which meant that Sandra was aces in his book considering all the nasty things Irene said about him within earshot).

"She's lonely. Don't know if coming back here was a good idea or not. Good for Emily, maybe not so good for her."

"Let's have them over to dinner on Sunday night."

Dan could feel Duck nod and was soon asleep. Dan stayed awake listening to the lighthouse repeat its warning over and over again. All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?

For one wonderful second, she believed him. Then she remembered that Buddy was very much married, and how this was nothing more than another ploy to get her into the sack. Jesus, did he think she was that stupid? He'd tell her he loved her when they fucked, and given what a total pushover she was, she'd ride that fantasy for a long time before closing her legs.

"Don't believe in fairytales, Buddy French. Ask Carol what she thinks. Shall we call her right now? It's a little late, but you won't mind waking her up to tell her that you're having an affair with me."

"She'd probably thank you. Check out the back of my truck. There's a sleeping bag in there. I told Carol I'm moving into my mother's place. I'm not going back."

Dear God, was that burning feeling in the pit of her gut hope?

"Why'd you marry her, Buddy? You could have had anyone."

"I don't know why I married her. I've asked myself that question many times in the last five months and every time I ask it, I seem farther away from the answer. I guess it's because she wanted me."

Before she could stop herself, she reared up out of her seat and slapped him, hard, across the face. Was that all it took? Marching up to him and grabbing him by the collar and announcing to everybody that Buddy French was hers. Staking a claim.

"You bastard. Bastard!" she screamed. "We all loved you. We all wanted you. Christ, we weren't enough? Why weren't we enough?"

"Who?" he shouted back, while clutching his cheek.

"Me and Jennifer and Sarah and Katie and… and…"

She almost said Duck. Not that they'd ever talked about it, but looking back? Man, was it obvious. Not her secret to tell though. Shit. They were all pathetic, and the guy whose face she'd just whacked more than any of them. She got up to get a bag of frozen peas from the freezer.

You live on an island like Wilby, and you can't help but be a little more innocent than most. It's probably different now, what with the Internet and all that technology rammed down the kids' throats. But when she was growing up, they were pretty isolated. It was something of a miracle that she hadn't gotten pregnant sooner than she did, because in those days, birth control was something you could only get in Halifax. She could see Duck being in love with Buddy and putting it down to male camaraderie. Being best friends. Being the running back to Buddy's quarterback. It must have been hell when the shoe dropped and he realized that he loved this man and it was hopeless and I'll have a double with my disappointment.

She handed him the peas. "This will take down any swelling. I smacked you good."

He ignored her outstretched hand. "You know what? None of you wanted me," he sputtered with not a little of his own anger. "You wanted Buddy French. Do you know how wonderful it was to go off to school and be a nobody? Actually have people call you by your real first name, not some nickname to distinguish you from your father and his father and his father. I had no expectations to live up to. I found I didn't even have my own expectations. And Carol came along, and she was aggressive and seemed to have enough ambition for both of us. We moved back, her kicking and screaming, and then I was Buddy French again. She was all over that. I didn't fight it. But I… I don't think people see me. Does anyone really know me?"

She picked up the peas and held the bag to his cheek.

"Why she marry you?"

He threw up his hands. "She told me once that it was hard to find someone who wasn't threatened by her, so I guess she took my passivity as a ringing endorsement. I'm not going to deny I loved her. She was spunky and motivated, which is the flip side of bitchy and grasping. She was a great teacher. We had some good years; when we were like Duck and Dan. In the beginning. Then we got here and she stopped teaching and got into real estate. She picked up on the whole Island/Buddy French dynamic real quick and said to me one night, 'You going to run for mayor next go around?' And she said it like it was a given, like why wouldn't I run for mayor. Because that's what Frenches did."

"You dad was mayor for a long time," she reminded him, shook the peas a little, and reapplied it to his cheek.

"I know. But I'm not my dad," he whispered.

"You stupid fuck," she chastised."I can't speak for anyone else. I didn't love you because you were class president or the quarterback. You're the guy who brought me flowers for my twelfth birthday. And bathed my back in iodine when my mother took a switch to it. And sent me what must have been all your savings when I became pregnant with Emily and that worthless piece of shit father of hers deserted us. It's because you were the only person besides Duck who didn't treat me like the whore I was. Not that I knew it then, but Duck was clearly out of bounds. Which is really sad, because he's got quite a nice dick, doesn't he?"

He laughed. She was so brave. Like those dolls with the rounded bottoms that you can't push over. They tilt this way and that and then right themselves again. He put his hand over hers. Cold and damp from the frozen peas, he pressed once and then removed both the bag and her hand from his cheek.

"That he does. Try taking gym with the guy. Made the rest of us feel pretty inadequate, let me tell you. Sandra, maybe there's another way to go about it. Getting what they have. Starting out slow and building up to something big."

"You won't become mayor hanging around the likes of me," she reminded him.

"I don't want to be mayor. Come on, let's go outside, walk down to the dock and look at the stars before the fog comes in."

They doused the candle and stepped outside into the street. The tourist end of Wilby was nothing more than a cross-hatch, the diner being at the far end of one of the legs that led down to the water. Within three minutes they were at the far end of the dock. They'd missed the stars. The moment the wind had died, the fog had crept back in. They leaned against the railing, let the fog curl around them, and listened to the low moan of the lighthouse.

How fitting. She was on that love boat once again, and the lighthouse was warning her of the danger. Sandra didn't have any hope that this was nothing more than Buddy reaching out because he was lonely, but apparently she was destined to smash against the rocks again and again. Truly, a fool for love.

"I need to get back. Emily will be crazy with worry."

"One more minute." Buddy stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her and gave her a squeeze. And then kissed the top of her head. "One more minute."