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Tomorrow’s A-Whole-Nother Town

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"I'm gonna talk to you in a minute. We've got a lot to talk about."

Rachel blinks after him, watching the tense hunch of Patrick's shoulders as he hurries away. Away from her. Following someone else.

Behind her she hears a man wondering aloud who she is, and finds herself wondering that, as well. Next to her, Alexis stands with wide eyes and lips pursed, hands very still for once. Alexis, the absurdly beautiful girl whose guy situation turned out to be not the same as Rachel's. Except maybe it is. Is it? Who was that man that Patrick had so desperately scurried after?

Turning back to the table, Rachel absorbs the immense discomfort of being stared at. They're all looking at her — the nice girl who'd checked her in, the older man still looking perplexed, and a woman who seems vaguely familiar to her, though she can't quite place why. The man looks away first, then the desk girl, but the woman lifts her chin with a flinty gaze.

"I-I think I should—" Rachel stammers, taking one step back, gesturing uncertainly over her shoulder. They say nothing, not even Alexis. Rachel turns to go. Nobody stops her, but she only takes a few steps toward her motel room before she stutters to a halt. She can't go that way. Patrick is that way. Patrick and… David? Was that his name? Who is he?

Instead, she veers left into the parking lot. Her truck is at the far end, sitting all by itself. She reaches the door, takes one look back at the motel, then climbs in to sit behind the wheel.

She doesn't know what to do.

 


 

Patrick Brewer was the perfect boyfriend.

After every breakup, this was always the thought that rose up into her brain. Sometimes it only took days, or a few weeks, and sometimes she held it off for months, but it was always there. Settled tiny inside her, way down deep, and always ready to remind her. Patrick was the perfect boyfriend.

He never forgot a birthday or an anniversary. He was great with parents and kids. He might have been a little shy sometimes, especially about showing affection in public, but that just made him all the more sweet. He could stand up on stage and sing to a crowded coffee house, but would get flustered when Rachel kissed him afterward.

It was cute. He was so cute. And kind. Nobody else could ever be so kind.

In high school, he was the nicest guy she'd ever met. He was a teenage boy, so he was still silly and stupid sometimes; he pulled pranks with his friends and he teased Rachel for months before ever asking her out. But he was polite to her parents, and he never got into trouble.

Rachel was the one who always found trouble. Patrick was steady. Reliable.

Toward the end of her first year away at university, there was a whole week when she'd thought she was pregnant. Patrick was the first person she'd called and, even though they'd both known it couldn't possibly be his, Patrick still told her he'd be there for her whatever she decided. They'd been broken up for close to six months at that point, their first big breakup, the longest one they'd had, then. The first one that had felt like it could be permanent. They'd barely talked during that time, but Patrick had always been there when she'd needed him. Patrick had always made her feel safe.

She got her period a day later and cried in the shower. Then she'd cried in Patrick's car because he'd driven out just to see if she was okay. Two weeks after that, they were officially back together and she knew then that she would never find a man as good as Patrick Brewer.

Of all her relationships and other dalliances, Patrick was the best. He was the perfect boyfriend and, this time, it took someone else mentioning him for that thought to push to the forefront of her mind once again. She was leaving work for the day, walking out to the parking lot with Aaron. They were just chatting casually, like they always did when they worked together, but then he stopped beside her instead of going on to his own car.

"A while back," he said, shifting his weight, "I—I noticed you stopped wearing your boyfriend’s ring?"

Rachel glanced down at her hands, full of her keys and purse and jacket, as though to check that, yep, she wasn't wearing any rings. She hadn't worn that ring for the past three months.

"It's just," Aaron continued before she could form words, "you don't really talk about… him. So much. I was just wondering."

"Oh. Um." What could she even say? She wasn't about to tell him that Patrick left her. She didn't even think about correcting him, that Patrick was her fiancé. "I don't like to bore people with personal stuff, you know?"

"Oh, sure. Sure." He nodded, shifting from foot to foot, rubbing at his shoulder with one large hand. He was very tall. "So, you guys are…"

"He had a job opportunity?" she blurted. "Um. That he just couldn't pass up, so. So, things are just kind of on hold. For now."

"Oh."

"Yeah." She nodded at him, hoping that would be all. Fiddling with her keys, she smiled one last time. "I should get going. See you tomorrow—or Friday, yeah, bye!" She quickly climbed into her little pickup before she could hear any more.

On the drive home all she could think was 'Patrick, you asshole,' and she missed him so much.

A few hours and a bottle of wine later, she sent him a text: Sometimes I want to kill my coworkers. Hows your new job going?

It took him a day and a half to respond: [It's good. I really like it. Hang in there.]

It was a start.

 


 

Rachel looks up from the steering wheel, out through the windshield, and sees Patrick walking along the front of the motel with the desk girl. She's carrying a plate of food and Patrick is at her side talking rapidly. The girl stops, her dark hair falling over her shoulder as she turns to him. She says something that makes Patrick bow his head and close his eyes. He nods like that, without looking, and breathes in deeply. Rachel glances back down at her hands loosely gripping the wheel.

Her hands are steady, pale in the shaft of late afternoon sun streaming through the window. She's still not wearing the ring. She'd taken it off the day after Patrick left and put it in a box because it was Patrick's ring, his class ring that didn't really fit her finger anyway. It was only supposed to be a temporary placeholder until they could go pick out an engagement ring together. Patrick had said he wanted her to choose something she'd really love. They never did get around to it.

She doesn't know why she didn't think to put it back on before making the trip down here to see him. She'd left on a whim, that's true, had packed quickly, grabbing only the essentials. But wouldn't wearing his ring have shown him that she was serious? That she was ready to work this out? The ring was supposed to symbolize their commitment to each other. How committed is she if she couldn't even remember to wear it?

How committed was Patrick when he gave it to her? Did he even know?

 


 

She was getting annoyed with him again. This was what always happened. Patrick would come back and they'd be happy, they'd be fine. Fine. For a while. Then this tiny, creeping feeling in her would begin to uncoil. It wasn't that he ever did anything really wrong, either, but his… everything would start to get under her skin. His niceness. His affability. His easy acquiescence to her. These were all traits a girl should want in a boyfriend. A fiancé. A husband.

What Rachel really wanted was for Patrick to have a goddamn opinion about something. About their future. About their lives. She'd thought the engagement would end this cycle. She'd thought they'd be settled, finally, and would begin to make plans.

"Do you even want to get married?" she finally asked, exasperated, hurling it at his back like an accusation. He was standing at the sink, washing their dinner dishes. He washed the dishes voluntarily, what was wrong with her? Why was she doing this to them again? "Because you can't even sit down and look at a calendar with me for five minutes," she continued, apparently unable to stop herself. "Do you even want to?"

"Maybe we shouldn't," he replied very quietly, without turning around.

Rachel froze in that moment. Her body froze, her mind froze. Her anger froze. "Patrick."

He set the last dish in the drainer, wiped his hands on the kitchen towel, and turned to face her. "I don't think we should."

"What do you—I'm not saying we have to pick a date for this year. We can hold off a little while. Next summer, maybe?" But he was shaking his head, not looking at her anymore. "I know everything isn't perfect right now. We'll be able to afford to move in a year if we really push ourselves. I know you hate your job and you've been looking—"

"I quit my job."

She faltered halfway out of her seat and dropped back down again, staring up at him.

"You… you quit?" That wasn't Patrick. He didn't just do things on a whim. He wouldn't quit his job.

"I gave them notice last week. I'm just working through Friday and then…" He spread his hands wide and let them fall back to his sides, and that was a gesture she was familiar with. That was his 'I don't know, I don't want to argue, I don't have anything to say' gesture of resignation. That was the gesture that almost always preceded one of them walking out.

Her anger returned. Her annoyance returned.

"You quit your job without telling me. You're right, maybe we shouldn't get married. People who are getting married tell each other these things before they do them." She stood up from the table, her chair screeching back, and put a little more distance between them. "So now what? We just forget the whole thing?"

"I think I—" Patrick started and stopped. She watched his jaw tighten and his chest expand before he continued. "I can't be here right now."

"Right. Of course." She nodded, because this was the familiar script, she knew it by heart. "So, are you going to go crash with Ben again?"

"Ben's in Australia, he sublet his place," he reminded her softly.

And she knew that. Patrick's cousin and closest friend had left over a month ago and maybe that was why he'd been extra quiet lately. Maybe that was why he'd been spending more time falling asleep reading on the couch than in their bed. Maybe that was why…

"So, just straight back to your parents' house, then?" she asked, hovering between wanting to fight and giving up.

"No." He shook his head and looked up to meet her eyes. "I mean I can't be… here." He gestured expansively, encompassing more than just their small apartment. "I'm gonna leave town for a while. I already have a line on a job, I just need to meet with the—with the company owner. But he basically said it's mine if I show up, so…"

"You already…" Rachel took another step back from him. "You've been thinking about this for a long time then."

His mouth thinned, lips disappearing between his teeth, and he just gave a small nod. She knew he'd been job hunting, but she thought he was looking here. She thought he was looking for their future.

He hadn't already packed his things. At least that was something. At least he hadn't been planning on sneaking out while she slept or waiting until she'd gone to work and letting her come home to an empty apartment, maybe a note on the fridge. Patrick wasn't like that.

He tried to apologize, but she didn't want to hear it. She told him to just shut up and go.

She had to get out of there while he gathered his things together. She took a drive to calm down, headed toward the St. Marys and down along Queen St. She pulled into Mulligan's Pub, but didn't go inside, just sat in the car and stared out at the mostly frozen river for a while. Long enough for Patrick to pack his car by himself. Maybe long enough for him to just leave. Be gone by the time she got back. Did she want that? To step into their home, dark and empty?

But he'd waited for her. Of course he had. He was there, just standing there, when she walked in the door. Their living room and kitchen looked the same as always. His books were gone from the coffee table, but that was it.

"You got everything?" she asked, slipping her keys onto the hook by the door.

"Everything I need, yeah." He shrugged, his coat already on and his own keys in hand. "I'll be at my parents' for the next few days, and then…"

"Okay." She nodded, dully. "Let me know where you… I mean, just, let me know you get there safely."

"I will."

There was a moment there she thought that he would hug her, kiss her goodbye, but then he was out the door, softly closing behind him.

The next morning she found his key to the apartment in the kitchen next to the notepad with half a grocery list scribbled on it.

 


 

When she looks up again, Patrick is making his way across the parking lot toward her. He reaches the passenger side of her pickup truck, one hand lifted up to tap the window, but stops just short in some strange parody of a wave. After a moment, a few seconds, Rachel leans across the cab to unlock the door for him. A few seconds' more hesitation, then Patrick is opening the door and climbing in.

He settles in the passenger seat, hands in his lap and eyes downcast. Rachel takes a breath, opens her mouth to speak, but Patrick starts first.

"Can we drive?" he asks abruptly, turning to face her. "Can we just—go. Somewhere else. For a bit."

Nodding, Rachel turns the key in the ignition. Patrick's already buckling his seatbelt. She clicks her own belt into place and begins backing out, checking her mirrors, when she realizes.

"I don't have anything on me. My purse, my wallet—"

"No one's going to pull you over around here. Just go up the road a bit, that way," he says, pointing off to the right of the motel parking lot. He directs her down the main road and onto a dirt one. "Turn down this lane here. A little farther. You can pull in right over there."

She maneuvers the truck off the road and into a dusty gravel lot surrounded by wide, rolling fields of tall grass and few trees.

"Where are we? Is this someone's land?"

"Ah, I don't know. I don't think so," Patrick answers. "Farther down there are some foot trails, and a pond. It's nice early in the morning. There are never any people out here," he explains, gesturing to the open, empty space. "If we'd stayed back there, everyone would have been watching us."

"Everyone."

"Yeah, they all sort of live at the motel." He shrugs. "It's a long, weird story."

"And they are…?"

He laughs, a soft, breathy thing. "The Roses," he tells her with wide-eyed amusement. "The Rose Video Roses." He chuckles again, shaking his head, eyebrows high. Of course, she remembers Rose Video. She used to hang out there in high school, waiting for Patrick's shifts to be over.

Johnny Rose. Patrick had studied his business models; she remembers the articles and notes he'd taken for his classes. Moira Rose. The woman back there coolly observing her was Moira Rose, the actress. And Alexis, she was a teen model and socialite. She was on MTV or something like that. And—

"David Rose," Rachel says, pieces slotting into place. She doesn't know much about him, but she can clearly recall the family portrait that hung in every Rose Video across the continent: Johnny Rose, his television star wife, and their two beautiful teenage children. All grown up now. "That's David Rose."

Beside her, she hears Patrick breathe and shift in his seat ever so slightly.

"Yeah," he says, barely above a whisper.

Every afternoon while Patrick shelved videos or worked the register, that family portrait had watched over them. They used to make up stories about the Rose family. The Rose kids were about their age, but lived on a different planet. She and Patrick both used to wonder aloud what their world must have been like.

"So how long—"

"Four months."

"—have you been into men?" she finishes quietly.

"Oh." Out of the corner of her eye, she sees his jaw tighten and his hands clenching together. He takes another shaky breath. "Probably always. I don't know?"

He says it like a question. He's still not looking at her and she's not really looking at him, her fingers locked tight around the steering wheel.

Always. Probably always.

"So, then…" She clears her throat, forcing her hands to release, and turns in her seat toward him. "Are you… bi?"

Patrick's eyes dart to her then away again. He breathes in, shaking his head. "I don't think so. No."

He's so quiet. Looking down at his lap, hands clasped and fidgeting, shoulders hunched practically to his ears. Sitting back, Rachel fumbles her seatbelt off to get it out of the way so she can breathe. She rolls her window down for more air.

I don't think so.

The breeze hits her face and her eyes sting cold even on this clear, warm, sunny day.

"The whole time we were together?" she asks, hating the way her voice cracks. "Every time we broke up was because—"

"No," Patrick interrupts, forceful but not sharp. He's never sharp with her. "No, look." He removes his seatbelt, as well, and turns his whole body toward her. "David is the first—the only guy I've ever been with."

"Then how do you—" She sniffs, cutting her eyes at him. "You've dated other girls. If he's the first, then how can you even know—"

"I just know."

"Patrick," she scoffs, not because she doesn't believe him — he'd said it so firmly, so surely — but because she can't, because it's not fair. "You said you needed time. Time on your own for awhile."

"I didn't plan this," he says, voice soft again. "I didn't. I did need time. And to get away from everyone, and to just work things out on my own, and then…" His shoulders lift in a helpless shrug. "I met him a few weeks after I moved here and—and—" He stumbles over his words, mouth stuttering open and shut. "I-I don't know. It was like, finally everything made sense."

She can't look at him. Hearing the sincerity in his voice, she can't bear to see it all over his face. Everything made sense. She always thought they made sense. They were the only thing in her life that was ever sensible.

"I've known you for fifteen years," she says, still gazing out the window and not at him. "All this time. How could you have never said anything?"

"I wasn't lying to you. Not deliberately."

She swipes a hand under her eyes and turns to him then. "Maybe we weren't always together during that time, but we were friends. I thought we were friends. Even when we were broken up and before we were ever anything else, we were always friends. How could I not know?"

"Rachel, it took me this long to figure it out myself," he says, his voice going high and tight. "Okay, there were times—there were incidents when I maybe thought…" His eyes are averted again, one hand gripping the back of his neck. "But I guess I just never really… wanted to think about it. It was—" He shakes his head, dropping his hand, and looking up at her. "You're right. We were always friends. Always. I always thought of you first. I lo—" His voice wavers. "I loved you and I… I felt safe with you. And I tried so hard to be good enough for you."

There are tears in his eyes. Not falling, not yet, but shining there in the corners. His voice is low and rusty, holding it all back.

"I did love you, Rachel, please don't think that I didn't."

Closing her eyes, Rachel takes inventory. Her breathing is wobbly and her eyes are wet, but she's not crying yet, either. I did love you. I did. Did. Collecting herself, she opens her eyes, blinks the wetness away.

"But this is why," she says. "This is why it's never worked."

Patrick looks almost gutted, but he forges on. "We never worked because… because it was so much work. It was never right. You felt it, too. You had to. You ended things just as many times as I did."

And it's true. In fact, if she thinks about it, the majority of the time, she broke up with him.

"Because you used to disappear!" Forcing the hurt down, she seizes on anger now. "You'd be sitting there right next to me and just…" Her hands flail between them, demonstrating she's not even sure what, but she feels ridiculous immediately.

Patrick just looks at her, soft now. "And you thought I was boring," he says, placidly.

She shrinks back, blinking at him, and quietly denies, "No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did." He's almost smiling now. "You do. You got bored with me all the time. We didn't go out enough. Or, I didn't want to go somewhere, so you'd go without me. Especially if it was last minute because you know I prefer plans. I always liked routine and you hated it."

"That's not—" She shakes her at head him. She didn't get bored with him, she got annoyed, there's a difference, but that's just life. "Couples are like that."

He looks down again, lips twitching in half a smile for half a second, saying, "I know." When he looks up into her eyes again, all hints of a smile are gone. "But sometimes I felt like we worked better when we were apart."

It hurts to hear that. It hits hard right in her chest. Except… except she's thought that, too, a few times before. The longest stretch of time they'd had without any fights or breaks or breakups was in college, after they got back together. They lived hours apart and only saw each other on occasional weekends and holidays. It was hard being without him, but it was also so comforting knowing he was there. Waiting for her.

After graduating, they'd decided not to move in together right away, and they'd lasted another nine months before breaking up again. The longest time they'd ever spent apart was a little over two years, and they'd somehow remained friends during that time. Through all of it, she always knew that Patrick would still be there, that they'd still find their way back to each other.

"I don't know what life is supposed to be like without you there," she whispers, not entirely meaning to say that out loud. Or at all.

"Rachel."

"It's just… It feels final this time. I think it never really did before."

"I know what you mean." He sounds sad. Is he sad that this is it? Is this it? Are they just done, never to be Rachel and Patrick ever again?

He has a boyfriend now.

"You know," she says, with a little more composure, "I've been texting you for almost three months. You could have just told me you were seeing someone.”

"That never works," he says, and she gives him a look. He actually laughs. "Last time I was seeing someone, that didn't stop us."

Rachel feels her face scrunch up. "Well, she was terrible. What was her name? Betty? Bettyanne?"

"Bethany, and she wasn't that bad."

"Ugh, Bethany. She was awful, Patrick. And so wrong for you."

"You barely even met her!"

"Once was enough!" They're both laughing now, just softly but it feels comfortable again. It feels like them. It feels like every other time they've done this. Her laughter tapers off and she turns to look at him. "But this is different. Isn't it?"

His smile fades, his face turning serious again, and he doesn't avert his eyes when he nods and says, "Yeah."

"Because you're… gay," she says, just to say it. To make it real. She watches Patrick's face go through a series of emotions, just the slightest twitches that probably nobody else would notice, until he finally nods again.

"Yeah." He huffs a tiny laugh, his lips curling up nearly imperceptibly. "I—I am. Gay." He lets out another long, shuddering breath, a smile peeking through. "That's the first—first time I've said it. Out loud to anyone. Other than, uh, talking with David."

"You haven't said it before?" she asks, incredulous. "At all? Not even—but you've been seeing him for months. Not even to people here?"

"I guess technically I told Ray first."

"Ray?"

"He's my… landlord is probably the most apt term? But I just told him I was going out with David. He didn't really react. Just sort of congratulated me?" His eyebrows go up in a kind of lost, helpless, relieved expression. "At first, all of this, it was a lot, yeah, but… I don't know, being here kind of made it easier. Nobody knew me. No one had any expectations. I didn't, actually, have to say anything to anyone."

He gives another helpless shrug. Rachel remembers that feeling, being in a new place where nobody knows you, or your family, or the person you used to be. She had that when she went away to university. Patrick had stayed close to home. He never got to reinvent himself for new people and new places. He'd stayed near his family, his huge family that knew about everything he ever did, that saw him often and talked with him even more so. He'd stayed near his parents, who doted on him, their only child.

"I saw your mom the other week," Rachel says, thinking back to that day. "We talked and… and she doesn't know. She doesn't. You haven't told your parents? You haven't told anyone else?"

His little smile is gone completely and he's so still, like a statue, but for his shallow breathing.

"No." It's so quiet it's barely a sound.

She'd been prepared to be angry with him, when they took this little drive. Prepared to be infuriated and to cry and to shout at him for breaking her heart. But she hadn't been prepared to feel heartbroken for him.

"Have you been dealing with this all on your own?"

He shrugs, lifting his hands and dropping them back down in that familiar gesture that says he doesn't want to say anything. But then he does. "That was sort of the point of coming here. Away from everyone, on my own."

"But you had to have someone to talk to," she persists. "Not even Ben?"

Patrick shakes his head. Ben's still in Australia, but there's email and Facetime and a million other ways to talk to someone these days.

"I was all right," Patrick says, like he's trying to comfort her. "Really. Being in a new place, it helped."

"But you have to come home eventually." She hadn't meant to say that, but the thought has been in her mind this whole time, the thought that this was just temporary and he would return, he would come home again.

"Not yet." He sounds almost pleading. "I can't—I don't know how. I'm not ready. I'm not ready for everyone to—" He bites his words back, clamping his mouth shut.

"For everyone to what?" She reaches out to touch his arm, but pulls up short at the last second. "They're your family, they love you."

He turns, pointing a finger at her. "That, right there."

"What? I'm not doing anything."

"You're looking at me," he says, and she widens her eyes at him. "You're looking at me like you don't even know me."

"Do I?" she can't help but say.

"I'm not different!" He clenches his hands into fists, just resting on his knees.

"I'm sorry! I'm not trying to look at you like anything." She has both hands raised, facing outward, in surrender, but she looks away from him because… he is different now. Everything is different.

"But you can't help it," he says, voice low and rough. "Everyone back home will, too."

"Patrick."

"I'm not ready yet."

She tries not to look at him any specific way, tries to keep her face neutral, gaze steady. She finally does reach out and place her hand over his. "Okay. It's okay. You don't have to yet."

He's looking down at her hand over his. "You won't say anything?"

"I wouldn't do that."

Slowly, Patrick turns his hand and locks his fingers around hers. "Thank you."

She squeezes his hand. "You've always kept all of my secrets."

With his head down, watching their joined hands, his thumb over hers, he gives her a little squeeze back.

"I do miss you, you know," he says, looking up now into her eyes. "It's not like I never thought about you, I just…"

"You mean you didn't want to deal with something so you tried to ignore it until it went away?" She fake gasps at him, then laughs at the face he makes. "Yeah. I guess I do still know you a little bit." She grips his hand tighter and shakes it between them, before letting go. "Did you even read all of my texts? I know you didn't respond to a lot of them, but—"

"Yeah. I did. Yes." He flexes his fingers and his hands go back into his lap. "I read all of them. I didn't know how—I didn't always know what to say back to you. I didn't… want to have this conversation, basically. But I read all of them. Although," he continues, with a raised eyebrow, "you could have said 'Hey I'm driving down to see you, let's meet up!' Or something along those lines."

Rachel rolls her eyes at him, tucking her hair back behind her ears. "It was supposed to be a surprise. Like, I was going to text 'Hey, what are you doing right now?' And you'd write back 'Nothing, what are you doing?' And then I'd say 'Turn around,' and then you'd see me and we would…" Her hands flail in front of her again. She releases a sharp, short breath through her nose.

Patrick is laughing at her. Not out loud, just with his face. "That sounds like something I would've done."

"Yeah," she says like duh. "I figured it was my turn."

She expects him to say something, maybe, to say that they didn't take turns breaking up, they didn't alternate who apologized first, except now it kind of feels like that's exactly what they've always done.

But Patrick doesn't say anything and the silence in the car is slowly being overtaken by actual crickets.

"So." She sits up in the driver's seat, hand going to the keys still in the ignition. "Should I… take you back to the motel? Or…"

"Probably not," Patrick says, slowly. "He's—he's really upset. They're probably all really upset with me right now." His hands are back in his lap, but his head turns to glance out the back window as though he could see them at the motel from here, waiting for him to return for judgment.

"I'm sorry," Rachel tells him, and she means it. "That I came here and messed things up for you."

"No." His head whips around toward her. "It's not your fault. I should've been honest. With you. With him."

"Well." She can't disagree with that. "Obviously."

Beside her, in the falling darkness, she hears his shuddering breath and very soft, "I think I blew it."

She goes very still, sure she wasn't meant to hear that and trying not to react.

But Patrick sniffs, loudly, wiping at his face with one hand, and his voice is thick when he says, "I'm sorry, you don't need to hear about this."

He goes on wiping at his eyes and trying to clear his throat and, no. No, she doesn't need to hear this. It's not her place. This is not her role. Patrick is not supposed to be the one crying here.

She can remember every time that Patrick has cried in front of her. When his grandfather died and she'd found him hiding in the coat room at the church because he was seventeen and hadn't wanted anyone to see his messy, snotty, tear-streaked face. When they broke up, not the very first time but the first big time. And a few more breakups after that.

Just last year, in a bar, surrounded by friends and strangers and family all watching as Gord Downie broke down on stage for the whole nation. That was the last time she saw Patrick cry, until now.

They were newly engaged then. He was supposed to marry her. And now he's crying over someone else.

This is the moment. She'd thought it had sunk in earlier, but this, right now, is when she knows. It's over. They're over. Forever.

Tears spring to her eyes and she's glad that Patrick is too busy with his own right now. She swallows and blinks and opens her eyes wide to dry them up. She surreptitiously wipes at them with just one finger and folds her lips inward to contain it all. Slowly, slowly, she controls herself, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Quietly.

When she turns back, Patrick has collected himself enough to just the occasional hitched breath, staring out the window into the darkening field. She studies him a moment, a face she's known for half her life.

Rachel believes that everyone gets only so many defining moments in their lives, and it's even more rare to be aware when they're happening. She decides to choose this one. She reaches over and gently places her hand on Patrick's arm. Startled, he glances at her hand first then up to her.

She smiles and says, "Just talk to him. Don't give up."

His eyes widen at her, his whole face broken open. "You don't have to…"

"If anybody can win someone back, it's you." She squeezes his arm and he looks down at her hand again.

"He said he needs time."

"He's hurt," she says, aching inside. "And upset, and… probably a little scared. Scared that he can't trust you. Scared that it's over. Scared that maybe he doesn't really know you at all." Patrick's face quivers in the dark, tears leaking at the corners of his eyes. "Show him that you're still here for him. Give him tonight, and start fresh in the morning."

She squeezes his arm again and this time he covers her hand with his own. "Thank you," he tells her.

She draws her hand back and gives him time to wipe his eyes and compose himself. Gives herself time to do the same. She turns the ignition, letting the truck's engine drown out everything else.

"So, not the motel. Where to, then?" she asks him, pulling her seatbelt back on.

"You could always just make me get out and walk. It's earned."

"Tempting," she says, beginning to back the truck out onto the road. "Put your seatbelt on." He does, and they drive back up to the main road.

"You want to see where I work?" he asks.

"The mysterious new job. Intrigue."

"My car is there, so. It would be practical," he says, and god he's such an asshole. She loves him.

Patrick directs her back toward the center of town. They have to pass the motel on their way. His eyes stray to the closed doors and fading facade, neck craning to get a better look, but it's dark now and there's nobody outside.

What Rachel assumes is the town square is also quiet and empty. There are lights on in the little café, but no people milling about. She parks her truck across the road from a pretty, brick building with big windows and a sign with simple, elegant lettering.

"Rose Apothecary," she reads aloud. She glances to Patrick and, even in the dark, she can read his face. He looks proud, but also wary, like he's afraid of what she might say. He's afraid of what she'll say now, but not when he told her he was gay? No, he was afraid then, too. She shakes that out of her head and looks back to the storefront. "Sounds fancy. But also, hm, classic? Charming, but probably expensive."

She hears Patrick's breathy little laugh behind her and turns to catch a sliver of a smile. "That sums it up," he says.

His car is parked alongside the building, toward the back. Rachel gets out to walk with him, partially under the guise of peeking into the windows of the store to spy what sort of wares they're selling. Patrick and David. She can't really see much in the dark, but the place looks nice. It doesn't, necessarily, look like Patrick's sort of place, but… well, she supposes it is now. Maybe it always was.

At the corner, they stand awkwardly, feet shuffling, and she's glad there's no one around to see them. Even more glad there's no one that knows her here in this town.

"I guess this is—" she starts at the same time he says, "Will you be—"

They both stop, forcing graceless, quiet laughter, neither really looking at the other. Patrick steps up.

"You'll be okay, getting home?" he asks. "It's a long way."

"I made stops. It's not a bad drive."

He nods, possibly remembering his own seven hour drive down here. "Okay," he says. "Okay. Let me know you—"

"I will." It's nice to know that he still wants her to be safe. She's always known it, some part of her will always know that, will always want him safe, too, but it's another thing to hear it from him.

"I know that—" Patrick starts, and stops, swallowing. He looks away, up the street, hands clenched at his sides, takes a breath, and tries again. "I know you'll have to… deal with people back home. My family, your family. Friends. They're going to ask you."

"I told you I won't say anything."

"I want to tell them myself. When—when I can."

"I wouldn't do that to you, Patrick. Even if I was still mad at you."

"Aren't you?" he asks, so plaintively, and how could he not understand? How can he not know that, no matter where they are, or how they feel in the moment, she will always love him. She could want to throw a book at his head, which she's done, but she'd never want him to be hurt.

"I'm still," she tries to explain, "processing all of this so… I'm not angry. Right now. I know I will be. Not at you, specifically, but probably at you a little bit." She looks up into his eyes. "But I wouldn't deliberately try to hurt you, Patrick."

"I know. I know you."

"This isn't—" She thinks a moment, and starts again. "This is… mostly not your fault."

He releases a short breath through his nose, looking down at his feet. "I think it mostly is."

"Well, you should work on that," she says because she can't think of anything else, and because he should work on not blaming himself. "And I should go."

Before Patrick can respond, she moves to him and up onto her toes to wrap her arms around his shoulders. "One day," she says, into his chest, "maybe not soon, but one day we'll be friends again."

It takes a second, but Patrick's arms gently enfold her, warm and strong around her body. "I'd like that," he whispers into her hair.

The hug lasts only a moment and then it's done. Her eyes are dry, and so are his. They say goodbye and she watches him get into his car. She tells him she's going to get an early start in the morning, but when she gets back to her room at the motel she doesn't want to stay there. She packs her bag quickly and loads it into her truck. When she goes to the motel office, she's grateful to find only the dark haired girl behind the desk.

"Oh." The girl looks up at her, then at the door like she's expecting to see someone else walk in behind Rachel. "Is everything—do you need something?"

"Just checking out," Rachel says, dangling her room key from one hand. "If that's—I mean, I hope it's not a problem?"

"Nope." The girl — woman — shakes her head and turns to the computer on the desk. "We do still have to charge you for the full night."

"I figured." Rachel sets the room key onto the desk and hauls her purse strap higher up her shoulder.

"Or I could…" She eyes Rachel up and down. "I mean, I can always charge it to Patrick."

That shocks a laugh right out of Rachel and she peers at the woman’s impassive face more closely. It could be the bad fluorescent lighting, or there could be a glint in her eye. "You can't actually do that, can you?"

"Legally?" She tips her head in a way that says 'no' but also that that wouldn't stop her.

Rachel laughs again, tucking her hair back behind her ears. "Thank you…?"

"Stevie."

"Thank you, Stevie, but that's okay. I think I've got this."

"The offer's there," Stevie says, clicking away at the computer and going to retrieve the receipt from the printer. Next to that, propped against the wall behind the desk, is Patrick's guitar case. Rachel would recognize it anywhere, the Hip sticker on the side and the familiar scuff marks on the bottom.

When Stevie hands over the receipt, Rachel asks, "You're his friend, right? Patrick's?"

Stevie's stoic demeanor flickers. "I think so."

"Good," Rachel says, with a smile. "He needs that. He does well when he has people, when he's involved with stuff. Like community projects and team sports." She stuffs the receipt into her purse, half turned away from the desk. Almost to herself, she says, "I guess I never paid attention to how he isolates himself sometimes. He needs people."

"He does," Stevie says, and Rachel looks back at her. "Have people."

"What's he like? David?" Rachel asks, then immediately shakes her head. "No, don't. That's not my—" She backs up from the desk. "Everyone seemed pretty happy before I showed up, so that's probably my answer right there." She makes for the door when Stevie's voice stops her again.

"If you're taking the Trans-Canada, there's a place about an hour past Elmvale. In case you need to stop." She's almost smiling when Rachel turns to look at her. "You'll know it when you see it. It's… well, it's not worse than this place, but there's a taco stand that's open until three a.m. that's really good. If you drop my name, or the town's, you will not receive a discount so probably don't mention that you're coming from here."

Rachel nods, hand already on the door. "Thanks."

"Are… are you okay?" Stevie asks.

"Yeah. I will be." Rachel shakes her head again. "I have no idea."

With a tiny wave of her fingers, Rachel walks out into the night.

 

The dawn breaks when Rachel's less than two hours from home. She'd stopped for tacos at the place that Stevie had suggested, but decided to take them on the road and push on through the night. She'd just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. She hasn't slept in twenty-four hours.

At Blind River, however, she pulls off the highway onto a little beach road and drives toward the lake. Removing her socks and shoes, she sinks her toes into the cold sand. The water is choppy and gray in the early morning light, but the sky overhead is already becoming a beautiful, pale blue.

The ground feels wet through her pants when she sits, as close to the water as she dares, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. Like this, she finally cries. All the anger and hurt and uncertainty of the past few days, the past few months, wells up inside her and the overflowing tears won‘t stop. With her head buried in her knees, she can hardly breathe, and she’s not sure who she’s hiding from here.

She'd thought if they only saw each other, face to face, they could work everything out, break free of this cycle, move forward and start the rest of their lives. And, she supposes, in a way that's true. They both can. Individually.

But Rachel has no idea what that looks like. It's not that she doesn't have a life without Patrick. She just doesn't have any plans.

Her hair is sticking to her wet face in long, limp streaks, tangling in the frigid wind blowing off the lake. She needs to get home.

She needs to go back to her life, and to figure out what that's supposed to be now.

With one last look out at the waves turning silver in the steadily rising sun, Rachel wipes her face on her sleeve, pulls her hair back, and brushes all the sand off her clothes. It's a little over an hour and a half before she's stepping into her apartment, quiet and empty just as she left it.

She takes a long, hot shower, and doesn't let herself cry, rinsing away the mess and the tension along with the tangles out of her hair. Crawling into bed, she thinks about setting an alarm so she won't sleep the whole day, but she doesn't have work tomorrow so why bother. She curls up on her side, pulling the blankets up to her chin, right in the middle of the bed where she always sleeps. There's a second pillow in the queen sized bed, ostensibly Patrick's pillow, though Rachel often uses it as an armrest. Very gently, with one finger, she pushes at that pillow, pushes it away, inch by inch, until it topples off the far side of the bed.

Flipping over onto her other side, exhausted and wrung out, Rachel falls asleep.

 


 

It was far too early in the morning to be up and out on the road, but Rachel had a few vacation days saved up, so what the hell, right? She knew where Patrick was. He’d told her in one of his (admittedly few) replies to her texts, but he'd told her because the town had a ridiculous name and he seemed to love it.

She couldn’t believe he was just kicking back in some podunk little nowhere. He hadn't gone to Kingston or Toronto or, hell, out of the country. He was just a day's drive away, sitting in some tiny town with a population smaller than their combined high schools, both the boys' and the girls'.

In his messages, he sounded happy with his new job, but he could manage a business anywhere. He never mentioned any new friends or events or places he'd visited. Just work. Patrick could work at home. Rachel would be happy to support him, if he just came home.

So, yesterday she'd gotten her shifts covered for the next few days, asked Anne-Marie for the time off, thrown some essentials in a bag, and, before the crack of dawn, Rachel had hit the road. The first hints of morning light were just beginning to trickle through the trees as she turned onto the Trans-Canada Highway, heading east.

Patrick hadn't replied to her texts in the last few days, but the few before that were funny. Light. The way they used to be, the way they always were right before getting back together. It felt like time for a grand gesture.

She'd never done this before. Gone after him like this. She'd never needed to; Patrick was always there, waiting for her. But this time felt different; they needed to try something different. Rachel knew they still had things to work out, all of their old issues that kept repeating, and simply texting was never going to get it done.

It was time for a real conversation.

Anticipation, nerves, and hope all fluttered in her stomach as she drove toward sunrise.