“Know what I miss most?” Ethan said, dipping water out of the dented metal bucket next to the farmhouse sink.
Robert, kneeling before the wood stove, didn’t answer. He was adding wood so they could heat the top surface enough to cook the fish they’d caught from the creek that morning.
Undeterred, Ethan answered his own question. “Ice. I miss ice.” The water had been boiled for safety and was still warm. It satisfied his thirst but tasted flat. “Remember scotch on the rocks? Ice cream? I love Dove bars.” He groaned at the memory of something cold in his mouth. “Well, loved. Think we might scrounge up a fridge one of these days?”
Robert abruptly straightened and held up a warning hand. Ethan fell silent and backed into a shadowy corner, fear running through him.
They’d left the door open to enjoy the unexpectedly balmy late-fall day, and now Ethan heard it too: the muffled thud of unshod horses coming up the overgrown gravel road through the woods.
Robert turned hard eyes to him. “I’ll get rid of them.” Robert moved out into the yard.
Ethan slid down the wall until he rested on his haunches. Where had they left the gun? Shit, he couldn’t remember. He strained to hear what was said. He wanted to look out the one window on that side of the small rock house, but he was afraid of being seen, so he stayed where he was, heart beating fast, blood pounding in his ears.
“You two are far off the main road,” Robert said jovially.
“Ain’t been out this way before,” a man with a deep voice said. “Thought we’d check it out.” There was a pause, and Ethan pictured him looking the place over. He’d see a run-down homestead with not a lot to offer. “Been here long?”
“Couple weeks,” Robert said, still being friendly. More like two months, Ethan thought, but they wouldn’t know that if they didn’t come inside. Don’t let them come inside.
“You here alone?” Deep Voice asked.
Robert laughed. “For now.”
“We heard a white man was in this area. Seen him around?”
“Nope. You’re the first people I’ve run across since I’ve been here.”
There was another pause, and Ethan tensed. Would they believe Robert? He anxiously tried to think of anything that would indicate Robert wasn’t alone. No, impossible. They’d been careful. So careful.
A horse snorted, and a bridle jingled. “Don’t suppose you have any food to spare?” Deep Voice asked.
Ethan wondered about the second rider. Why hadn’t he said anything? He shivered, suddenly cold despite the warm temperature.
“Killed a doe yesterday,” Robert said, “but after eating my fill, I left her. No way to preserve meat. Hurt bad to do that.”
“I hear ya,” Deep Voice said. “Hard to find salt these days, and with the power out everywhere, well….”
“Well.” Robert’s tone was polite but no longer welcoming. He was telling the strangers it was time to leave.
“Guess we’ll move on then,” a woman said, and Ethan knew she was the second rider. “Keep your weapon close in case that honky shows up. Good luck to you, brother.”
“Same to you.”
A few minutes later, Robert came back inside. Our eyes met. “It’s okay,” he said. “They were only poking around. They don’t know shit.”
Ethan rose, crossed the room, and threw his arms around Robert. He welcomed his partner’s heat. Robert loved him; Ethan knew this to the marrow of his bones. It didn’t matter that Ethan was Caucasian, that ninety-eight percent of white people had been massacred during the Color War of 2021. Robert would always be there for him.
Ethan kissed Robert’s cheek, then grasped his hand, noticing anew the difference in their skin color. Robert’s ebony skin would always be beautiful to him, and Ethan knew Robert felt the same way about Ethan’s ivory color.
Releasing him, Robert moved to the stove. “Let’s cook up that fish. I’m hungry.”
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