“So… we’re doing this.”
Patrick glanced over at David, who had the tiniest hint of a smile tucked into the corner of his mouth as he nervously twisted one of his gold engagement rings around the second knuckle of his right index finger. The same nondescript scenery they’d long ago gotten used to seeing any time they needed to go somewhere other than Brebner’s or Cafe Tropical was flying by the window as Patrick drove down the familiar, two-lane highway that connected Schitt’s Creek and Elmdale. This time, though, it was different. This time, it was the start of something new.
“We are,” Patrick said, a smile spreading across his own lips as he reached over to take David’s left hand in his right, stilling his husband’s restless motion. He could feel the metal of David’s wedding band against his own skin, along with the slight clamminess of David’s palm, giving away just how nervous he was.
David took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly as he nodded. “Yep.”
“Don’t tell me you’re already having second thoughts.”
David’s slow nod turned to a vehement shake as he turned to look at Patrick. “No, it’s just… this is big. Really big. Like bigger than when I leased the general store.”
“And look at how that turned out.”
David pursed his lips, drawing them once again toward the right side of his mouth as he tried to hide a grin. “Yeah,” he whispered. “Can’t say I thought I’d get a husband out of the deal, too.”
“Me either. But I’m glad you did. That we both did.”
David nodded again, turning his head slightly to look out the window as they passed the Wobbly Elm on the outskirts of the Schitt’s Creek town limits. For a few minutes, neither of them said anything, letting the road noise and the soft sounds of Elm County’s only top-40 radio station provide the soundtrack for the trip that, if he was being honest, Patrick had to admit had the power to completely change their lives, much in the same way that opening the store had.
When Patrick had left home with the sole intent of freeing himself from a lifetime of expectations that had never felt right, he’d never imagined that the far-below-his-qualification-level receptionist job working for Ray Butani would change his life. That it would lead him not only to finding himself, but also the person he was meant to share his life with. But it had, and for that, Patrick would forever be grateful — for Ray’s truly insane last-minute engagement photo session that had left Patrick to handle David’s incorporation paperwork, for all of the grant applications he’d filled out during his days of interning at a nonprofit on summer break from university, and for that stupid town sign that had made him laugh until he cried, his joy at the ridiculousness of “don’t worry, it’s his sister” mingling with how lost and confused he’d felt at the time. How he’d hoped that a fresh start would be all he would need to find happiness — to no longer feel like he was “faking it” through life, just doing what everyone else expected of him.
In Schitt’s Creek, he’d found that and more — and most of it in David Rose.
The clouds overhead seemed to be getting thicker by the minute, the sky darkening with the threat of impending rain. Patrick’s right leg had been aching since he’d woken up that morning, accurately predicting the change in the weather, just as it had nearly every time it rained since the day a car had driven through the front of Rose Apothecary, destroying half of their inventory and leaving Patrick with a badly broken leg.
He’d finally gotten rid of the limp, though it had taken months and months of physical therapy and gait training to do it. However, there were some aspects of the accident that would stay with him for the rest of his life, including the slightly jagged scar on his shin where the broken bone had poked through the skin, and the half-dozen or so much cleaner cuts where the orthopedic surgeon had inserted the hardware that held his lower leg together while it healed. And, of course, the deep, constant ache he experienced when it rained or got cold.
He was thankful to still be alive, though, and that his injuries hadn’t been worse. It wouldn’t have taken much for the outcome to have been very, very different, and both he and David knew that. David had been anxious about it for months following the accident, often waking up in the wee hours of the morning, trying to catch his breath as the last vestiges of a nightmare faded away. Patrick, however, usually tried not to think about it too much, because he didn’t want to imagine a world in which he’d left David behind without even getting to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
He’d had to sit out the baseball season, and joining the community hockey league was definitely out of the question for the time being — if not for good — but that seemed a small price to pay, compared to the alternative. Of course, it had taken Patrick a long time to arrive at that conclusion, after a lot of initial frustration with just how fucking long his recovery time had been predicted to be, but he’d gotten there. Eventually. With a lot of help. Now, though, he was finally feeling like things were getting back to normal — back to the way he’d originally imagined married life with David, without a plethora of medical appointments taking up a large chunk of their schedule.
Patrick still felt guilty about that, and about David having to spend so much time taking care of him. But mostly, he felt guilty that David had been not only left to take care of the store alone, but to navigate through a disaster pretty much entirely on his own, while Patrick spent most of his days lying in bed. It had quickly become apparent, though, that he and David both had the support of the entire town, and the way everyone had pitched in to help when they needed it most had left no question in Patrick’s mind that staying in Schitt’s Creek had been the right decision. They belonged there. And even if their biological families weren’t there, they were still surrounded by family — a chosen one.
Patrick had never been a big believer in the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” but that entire experience had shown him that sometimes, even when it felt like his entire life had been turned upside down, there would be some shred of good somewhere, if he looked hard enough. Not only had the months that followed the accident deepened his and David’s relationship, but David’s addition of the web storefront had also brought growth for the store. With significantly more profit came a need for more and more space devoted to the online side of their business — space that the small Schitt’s Creek location simply didn’t have — and that was why they were headed to Elmdale for a final walk-through of the space they planned to lease downtown.
It was a former drugstore, complete with an old-fashioned soda counter that David hoped to turn into an espresso bar. What had sold Patrick on the space, however, was the large storage area that would be perfect for organizing their ever-increasing variety of products and setting up a more efficient space for packing and shipping. The space had been empty for a while, so there were some repairs to be made and maintenance that needed to be taken care of, but the landlord had promised that everything would be addressed as soon as possible once the lease was signed. Patrick hoped that would be the case, because they’d need to get up and running as quickly as they could to protect their profit margins and ensure that this particular business move turned out to be a wise one.
“We’re ready for this, right?” David’s voice was so soft that Patrick barely heard him over the sound of his tires on the not-so-smooth pavement.
“As the numbers guy, I thought I was supposed to be the nervous one.” Patrick chuckled as a smattering of light raindrops started to hit the windshield. “Yes, David, we’re ready. We’re more than ready. In fact, we need this so we can keep growing.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Patrick saw David nod slowly as he drew in another deep breath, prompting Patrick to reach across the console and take his hand again.
“We’re doing it together,” Patrick said, giving David’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Just like we did when we opened.”
“Yeah,” David whispered, his gaze still trained out the window, as the rural landscape started to give way to the city — at least, as much of a city as one could consider Elmdale to be.
“David, we’re ready,” Patrick said, pausing to wait for David to turn toward him. “I never would have suggested it if we weren’t.”
David hummed and turned to look out the window again, the fingers of his left hand returning to twisting the engagement rings on his right — his go-to method of working out nervous energy.
It was exciting to think about how the tiny general store he and David had started together was now growing into a multi-store operation, far sooner than Patrick would have ever thought possible. He understood why David was nervous, though; honestly, he was too. They needed to play their cards exactly right to make it work, but Patrick was confident that they could do it. To Patrick, it was an exciting challenge — a new opportunity to rise to the occasion and put his business degree into practice. At the same time, though, Patrick knew change made David anxious, and that would be something to watch out for as they embarked on this new adventure — making sure that they continued to communicate well with each other, not keeping things bottled up until they exploded.
The rest of the drive was mostly quiet, save for a short discussion over whether to pick up Thai food or Italian for dinner, and soon they were pulling into a parking space in front of the store that would soon become the second Rose Apothecary.
“I hope you know that green awning has got to go,” David said, chin drawn back in disgust as he moved his hands in broad circles. “It’s very off-brand.”
Patrick chuckled as he unbuckled his seatbelt, reaching behind the passenger seat to search for his umbrella. The rain had picked up considerably in the last half of their drive, and Patrick knew that David would want nothing to do with getting either his hair or his sweater wet. He handed the umbrella to David before swinging his own car door open and making a break for it, ducking underneath the awning while he waited for his husband.
“I dunno, David,” Patrick said, trying to hide his grin as his husband awkwardly exited the car while wrangling the umbrella, then executed his equally awkward half-stomp, half-run to meet Patrick, who was really just a few steps away. “The awning seems pretty handy right now.”
“It’s just that, ideally, once the store is open, we would be inside if it’s raining.”
“Point taken.” Patrick nodded, an amused smile just beginning to form on his lips despite his best efforts to conceal it as he opened the door for his husband, who spent several seconds fighting with the umbrella before finally making it through the door.
The property manager, Alicia, was already there, with all of the necessary paperwork spread out on the counter, her phone pressed to her ear.
“Yes, I’ll have someone out there as soon as I can,” she said, sounding a bit exasperated. “I know … Yes … I’ll make sure they know it’s an emergency.” She gestured impatiently, as if she really wanted the person on the other end of the line to wrap it up, or at least get to the point. A couple of “absolutely” and “uh-huhs” later, she hung up, sighing as she laid the phone on the counter. “Lovely weather, eh?”
Patrick’s eyes were drawn to the large bucket that already stood in the center of the large empty space that was their new store, catching water from a leak that had clearly been operative for a while, if the size of the stain on the ceiling tiles was any indication.
“I’ll have someone out here to take care of that on Monday morning,” Alicia said. “No one’s been here for a while.”
Patrick nodded; they were already well aware that the building had been unoccupied for more than a decade. That was part of why the rent was so cheap. And the last time they’d all been there, it had been a sunny day. Patrick had seen the stain on the ceiling, but he’d hoped it was old, even though he knew that was a long shot, given the age of the building and how long it had sat empty. Overall, though it had seemed to be in good condition, considering, and it fit comfortably into their budget. Now, he just had to hope that there wouldn’t be too many unpleasant surprises yet to be discovered.
“We don’t usually get this much rain at once... as I’m sure the two of you know,” Alicia said, her high heels clicking against the dingy tile as she walked over to the bucket, adjusting its position ever-so-slightly.
“Only on important days, apparently,” David groused.
Patrick wasn’t sure if he would quite put signing the lease for a second location on the same level as their wedding day — which had easily been the happiest day of Patrick’s life — but he reached for David’s hand just the same, interlacing his own thick, calloused fingers with David’s slender, well-moisturized ones. David glanced over at him as their hands made contact, giving him a nervous half smile.
“Well, should we get down to business?” Alicia’s bright voice broke the somewhat awkward silence as she walked back toward the counter and picked up her pen.
Patrick heard David take a deep breath alongside him before whispering, “I guess this is it.”
“We’ve got this,” Patrick said, squeezing David’s hand. “We need this.”
“It’s really big, though.”
“It is, but we’re doing it together.”
David gave a quick nod, then let out a shaky breath before taking a decisive step toward the counter and reaching out to take the pen. He signed his name and handed the pen to Patrick, who added his own signature to the first document. They repeated the process three more times before everything was done, and Patrick could practically feel David vibrating with nervousness beside him the entire time. David wasn’t wrong; this was huge. But they’d already proven that they had the ability to not only build but also maintain a successful business, even with one of them out of commission for months — not to mention the major loss of inventory and physical damage to the building. So if they could get through all of that unscathed, there was no real reason to think that they wouldn’t be able to pull this off too. Patrick had to admit the store did need some work, but that was part of the fun — making it their own.
They spent the next half hour going over every last square foot of the space — taking pictures and imagining what it would look like as Rose Apothecary, rather than a dilapidated old drugstore, while making notes on what repairs needed to be made to bring it back to full usability. The imagining was David’s department, and Patrick loved watching him look around, taking it all in and transforming it in his minds’ eye, sometimes giving actual voice to his visions, and other times simply scribbling them down in a notebook. But through the process, Patrick couldn’t help but notice that David seemed subdued — like he was tired, or maybe just didn’t feel like himself. That wasn’t all that unusual either, though, especially since David’s moods tended to follow the weather, and Patrick knew he’d been anxious about this appointment all day, despite his best efforts to act like he was fine.
Patrick kept a steadying hand on the small of David’s back as they finished their walk-through, then shook hands with Alicia before getting back in the car to head home — though not before a mandatory stop at their favorite Thai restaurant on the outskirts of town.
The grey sky and thick clouds — and the accompanying rain — showed no sign of letting up anytime soon as Patrick made the turn onto the highway that would take them back to Schitt’s Creek, a big bag of takeout safely nestled in the back.
“So… we did it,” Patrick said, turning his head slightly to glance at David in the passenger seat.
David hummed, his own gaze still trained out the window. “Yep… we did.”
“Hey… you okay?” Patrick moved his focus to David for a few seconds, thankful that they were on a straight, flat, mostly deserted stretch of highway that didn’t require much attention.
David gave a small nod as he pulled his lips into his mouth briefly. “Just a headache,” he said, shrugging, his voice soft — continuing to reflect the subdued demeanor he’d had during the walkthrough.
“Probably this weather,” Patrick supplied, reaching over to lay a comforting hand on David’s thigh. “I’ve got some ibuprofen in the glove compartment if you need some.”
Without saying anything, David took Patrick up on his offer before leaning back in the seat and closing his eyes.
Patrick let the silence take over as the miles passed, wanting to give David some relief, if quiet was what he needed. The pitter patter of raindrops hitting the car mingled with the low sounds of the radio as Patrick drove them home, David’s even breathing in the passenger seat indicating he was either asleep or close to it.
Patrick spent the rest of the drive cataloging all of the things he wanted to talk to David about later — all of the things David had written down, and the sketches he knew David had been working on for weeks. Patrick was eager to see the final concept drawing for the espresso bar, which David had thus far refused to show him, claiming he wanted it to be a surprise — although Patrick was sure a big part of it was likely that David was afraid he’d veto most of it on account of their budget. But Patrick knew how much David wanted it — after all, he’d been talking about espresso machines since the start of their relationship — and Patrick was willing to do whatever he could to make it happen while still making financial sense. Besides, the coffee shop down the street had recently closed, so it seemed like the perfect time to try this new concept for Rose Apothecary.
Nervous excitement continued to flutter in Patrick’s gut as he tried to keep his focus on the road, especially as the rain picked up. David was still breathing deeply beside him, with the occasional light snore as he inhaled, as often happened whenever David fell asleep sitting up. Looking over at his husband’s peaceful face made Patrick smile, grateful he was getting some rest, because he likely hadn’t gotten much the night before.
David stirred a little as they pulled in the driveway, reawakening fully as Patrick laid a gentle hand on his thigh after parking the car.
“Morning, sunshine,” Patrick said, smiling as he watched David slowly come back to full consciousness.
“Shit, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” David mumbled, shaking his head slightly. “I just… got really tired all of a sudden.”
“Well, hey, at least you’re awake in time for dinner.”
“Mmm… yes.” David’s eyes lit up, making him look a bit more like himself — and doing a lot to allay Patrick’s worries. “What a tragedy it would be to let good Pad Thai go to waste.”
They ate in the living room in front of the TV, sampling bits of each other’s dinner and sharing a large order of spring rolls while watching the Great Canadian Baking Show, which David, as always, had a great many opinions about — not the least of which was that he needed to figure out how to become one of the judges. Nevermind the fact that his only culinary experience was being a connoisseur of all things food-related.
It wasn’t long, though, before the events of the day seemed to be catching up with David again, leaving him nodding off on Patrick’s shoulder as the credits rolled on their second episode of the night. Patrick leaned down to press a soft kiss to David’s temple, smiling to himself when David let out a contented sigh and snuggled in deeper. Patrick clicked off the TV and grabbed his book from the side table, moving as slowly as possible so as not to wake his husband.
Anxiety was a hell of a thing; Patrick knew that, and David knew it intimately. The crash David seemed to be having right now, though, seemed more akin to the after effects of a panic attack, leaving Patrick wondering if David had been more worked up than he’d let on. They’d talked about this on more than one occasion — that Patrick hoped David knew he could come to him with anything, just to talk it out… no need to let it fester until it blew up. But it was still hard for David to talk about, and Patrick knew that too. Old wounds from people who didn’t deserve David’s love or attention, who told him he was “too much” or “too dramatic” — as if being anxious was a choice David was making. Only it wasn’t. Sure, there were coping skills and strategies to minimize negative thoughts, and medications to help reduce the symptoms, but at the end of the day, it was just how David’s brain was wired. It was never going to be gone; they both just had to find the most effective ways of dealing with it.
Patrick had been going over their entire day in his head, searching for any possible moment when he’d been separated from David long enough for a panic attack to occur without him knowing about it, when he realized he’d been staring at the same page in his novel without reading a single word since the moment he’d picked it up. He took a breath and gently set it aside, bringing an arm around David’s shoulder, letting his fingers brush over the soft surface of David’s sweater — one of his fuzziest, and another hint at how David had been feeling, even at the very start of their day.
Patrick glanced up at the clock on the mantle as he yawned, causing his husband to stir slightly alongside him. David blinked his eyes open and stretched, drawing in a long inhale before letting out a yawn of his own.
“Oh my god,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Nothing’s wrong with you.” Patrick reached out for David’s hand, twining their fingers together. “It’s been a long day. Why don’t you go up and start getting ready for bed? I’ll clean up and be up there in a few minutes.”
David nodded as Patrick stood up, tugging David along with him before turning to give him a proper kiss this time — on the lips, with a lingering nibble of David’s lower lip before they separated.
“Love you,” Patrick said softly, his hands planted firmly on David’s shoulders. “There’s no one else I’d rather do this with than you. We’ve got this. I promise.”