In July, Roland attends the Elmdale Ribfest and happens to spot a poster advertising it as the largest community event ever held in the municipality.
In retrospect, that is the moment events spun out of control.
Tilting his head to shield his eyes against the morning sun, Patrick finishes threading the last fabric tie through the corresponding loop and pulls the knot tight, securing the tarp roof to the metal frame.
Rose Apothecary’s booth at the First Annual Schitt’s Creek Harvest Festival sits opposite Café Tropical’s food truck on Highway 47, just in front of the store. They’ve spent the past week getting ready for the event, Patrick coordinating the logistics of tables, tents, and power while David assembled care packages of the store’s products to be sold as limited-edition festival specials. Under protest, a small fraction of the baskets include a bottle of Roland’s latest microbrew, Provincial Thoroughbred Winter Ale, also guaranteed to serve as antifreeze in a pinch. It’s lucky Roland pitched that particular selling point to Patrick, because David would have pulled the order entirely if it had made it to his ears.
It seems like half the town is out in the faint light of dawn setting up their own booths. Across the street, Twyla holds the door of the café open so Mutt can carry out industrial-sized carafes of brewed coffee, hot water for tea, and hot chocolate. Bob calls out slight height adjustments to Roland as he straightens the hanging banner that spans the street. Patrick waves at Ray, who has one booth dedicated to each of his businesses and therefore takes up a small avenue all to himself.
Assembly complete, Patrick steps down from the wooden pallet of questionable structural integrity. David’s steadying hands remain on either side of his waist.
“You don’t need to spot me anymore,” Patrick points out.
“Mmm, I don’t know. You could still fall,” David says.
“I’m standing on solid ground.”
“Someone might sweep your feet out from under you.”
“Bob is looking mighty fine today.”
David’s huff is visible as a white cloud in the crisp fall air and Patrick smiles, leaning back into the touch.
Sales are steady through the morning as the weekend brunch crowd descends on the festival, and soon the street is filled with the ambient sounds of background chatter and the smell of cinnamon apple. Patrick settles into an easy rhythm ringing up customers while David bags their purchases and restocks the table with boxes of stock waiting just inside the store.
“Ugh, David, this is so cute,” Alexis says, picking up a pumpkin chai candle with the Rose Apothecary name printed over top of a forest landscape in peak fall colours. A maker’s mark handwritten in the corner designates it as #23 in the batch, David’s latest idea to remind customers that the store only carries locally sourced products.
“$15,” David says without hesitation.
“But I’m your sister!”
“I’m sorry, how could I forget? For you, $20.”
Patrick shares an amused smile with Ted, giving him five dollars back in change for the twenty Ted handed over while the siblings continue bickering. He throws an extra lip balm in the bottle of the bag with the candle for good measure.
“Dave, is that you?”
Patrick doesn’t recognize it as David’s name at first, because David doesn’t go by Dave in the same way Patrick doesn’t go by Pat. Not as a nickname, not as a joke. He wears the name David Rose in all its splendor like it's a designer label. He has only ever answered to the short form from Roland – something to do with a stolen truck Patrick has never gotten the full story on – and even that is a rare exception to the rule.
“It is you! Man, how have you been?”
‘Man?’ Patrick mouths at Alexis. Instead of sharing in his amusement, her eyes narrow. She looks from David back to the newcomer, lips flattening out into a straight line of disapproval.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Ethan says.
David’s arm snakes around Patrick’s waist; possessive, like he’s planting a flag. “Ethan, this is my boyfriend, Patrick. Patrick, this is Ethan, my ex.” Well, that explains Alexis’ reaction. In true sibling fashion, she is the only person allowed to mess with David.
“Would you two like a minute to catch up?” Patrick asks after a moment of awkward silence.
“Yes,” Ethan says.
“No,” David says, and there’s something off about the tone of his voice. Patrick turns to look at him for the first time and David’s expression, normally as animated as the rest of him, is completely blank.
David finally looks away from Ethan back to Patrick and his face softens slightly. He looks a little more like himself when he rolls his eyes, the corner of his mouth quirking up in fond exasperation. “Yes, fine, give us a second.”
“O…kay,” Patrick says slowly, squeezing David’s hand. “I’ll be right over there if you need me,” he says as he steps out from behind the booth. David’s not looking at him anymore, already returning to the weirdly intense wordless conversation he seems to be having with his ex.
In the privacy of his own mind Patrick will admit to himself that he doesn’t like the look of the guy – he’s wearing oversized pitch black sunglasses on a moderately overcast afternoon, his expensive jeans are intentionally ragged in a style that Patrick has never understood, and he carries himself with an air of being just a little bit better than everyone around him – but he and David both have pasts. They also have a standing rule against living in them.
Alexis and Ted follow him across the street, where he finds Stevie hard at work on her entry for the pumpkin carving contest. He positions himself so that David remains in his line of sight and tells himself it’s so he can see if the booth gets busy again.
“Looking good,” he says to Stevie, nodding at the pumpkin.
“Thanks.” She accepts the bottle of fresh-pressed juice swiped from the store cooler gratefully, draining half the bottle.
“Has David ever mentioned an ex named Ethan?” he asks, too casually. Stevie looks up from her pumpkin to his face, sees something there, and sets the carving utensil aside without another word, turning in her seat to get a better look at the obvious subject of conversation across the street.
“He was bad for David,” Alexis says, biting her lip. “No, he was bad to David,” she corrects herself, and the hairs on the back of Patrick’s neck stand on end.
David’s arms are crossed, but he seems fine. He is fine, Patrick reasons. It’s always hard to run into an ex in public, especially if you didn’t end on good terms.
“Hey, did you hear Jocelyn had to shut down apple bobbing?” Stevie says.
“Someone complained it was unsanitary?” Patrick asks.
“They ran out of apples?” Ted asks.
“She caught Gwen cheating,” Stevie says.
“How do you cheat at apple bobbing?”
“Pre-bit apple up the sleeve,” Alexis says, and they all look over at her. “What? I figured that out when I was five.”
Patrick feels some of the tension of the moment bleed out of him and leans up against the side of the picnic table, taking a closer look at Stevie’s design. She’s been hard at work since this morning, scooping out the seeds, thinning out the inside of the pumpkin to make the design pop, and stencilling an homage to The Nightmare Before Christmas into the front. Going into the afternoon she has moved on to the actual carving.
He glances back at the Rose Apothecary booth in time to see David flinch, his whole body pulling away from the table. Patrick is halfway across the street before he realizes Ethan’s outstretched hand is still, palm face up in a gesture of placation.
“David?” Patrick asks.
“Everything’s fine,” Ethan says.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
David takes a deep breath in and steps back to his previous position, his shoulders uncurling as his posture resets to something less defensive and more neutral. “Sorry, I just--.”
“Dave’s just a little sensitive,” Ethan says.
“Sensitive,” Patrick repeats, his voice flat. “David?” he tries again, but David still won’t meet his eyes.
“He still blames me for the candids. Nudity is more authentic that way, you see,” Ethan says, and then Patrick's fist connects with a satisfying crack.
Ethan staggers back a few steps but doesn’t go down, turning his head to spit out a mixture of blood and saliva. He recovers quickly and comes back swinging. Patrick dodges the clumsy attempt at a counter with a neat sidestep and thinks about every time David has been surprised at something that falls under the category of basic human decency. That kind of learned response stems from somewhere -- more accurately, it stems from someone. Several someones, Patrick knows, but one of them is standing right here in front of him.
"Easy, slugger," Stevie says in his ear, pulling him back. Ted gets a foot in between them and pushes his body the rest of the way in, a warning hand placed on each of their chests to keep them separate.
“You hit me,” Ethan says.
“You hit him,” David says.
“Get the fuck out of this town,” Patrick says.
“My night in shining suede,” David says later that evening, gently lifting up the icepack to take a closer look at Patrick’s red knuckles. He murmurs something discontented to himself and repositions first the icepack and then himself, dropping onto Patrick’s lap and wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
“I think I ruined the Harvest Festival,” Patrick says, more embarrassed than anything now that the adrenaline has cleared out of his system.
“Nonsense,” Stevie says. “You should punch someone every year.”
“Mr. Rose told me it was well done. Mrs. Rose told me it was a touch dramatic – Mrs. Rose -- but no less than he deserves.”
“Keep this up and Roland will charge admission next year.” David glares at Stevie and she raises an eyebrow, unapologetic.
Alexis and Ted had been kind enough to run interference while David took Patrick into the store for some first aid and a quick ravishing. Now that the sun has set and the street is empty, logic is beginning to ask questions like ‘Did you think about--?’ and Patrick is forced to own up to the fact that as it turns out, very few thoughts crossed through his head in between action and response. Patrick thanks his lucky stars that this is the kind of small town where everyone knows their neighbours. More specifically, where everyone knows the character of their neighbours. A festival full of people and not a single member of Schitt’s Creek saw the incident according to the police report.
“I was—” David begins.
“You don’t have to explain yourself,” Patrick says, and he really doesn’t. David could have used any one of a hundred possible adjectives to finish that sentence – younger, shallower, more naïve – and it would not have changed the story one bit. It doesn’t matter. There is nothing he could have done and no one he could have been that would excuse Ethan’s behaviour.
“If Patrick didn’t, I would have,” Stevie says and she’s not kidding, it’s not a joke. David has this habit of forgetting that there are people in his corner, and it is their duty to remind him.
This is something to protect. David and Stevie, this store, this town. This isn’t the life Patrick envisioned for himself when he moved to Schitt’s Creek looking to get some distance for the problems of a previous life, because he’d never pictured being quite this happy. Patrick’s a logic guy but some of the best decisions he’s ever made have come from gut feelings, and he knows with absolute certainty that this is one of those. Patrick only wishes he could hit Ethan again.
“My boyfriend, Muhammad Tyson.”
“So close and yet so far, David.”