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Fifteen Hundred Miles

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They spend the next day almost entirely in bed, pushing everything but each other from their minds.

It’s the first day since they’ve known each other that they don’t talk much. Their conversation grows minimalist, reduced to questions like “Is this okay?” “Does this feel good?” “More?” on one side and answers like “Yes,” “God yes,” “Yes, I’m sure” on the other.

But they communicate. Somewhere along the way, they learned how to read each other without speaking. David moves his hands across Patrick’s skin like it’s written in Braille, like he knows how to extract meaning from all its ridges and grooves, and it leaves Patrick’s body prickling with things to say. Patrick navigates David like a map, following his twitches, his taste, the sounds he makes, and keeps landing in new territory, discovering corners of himself he never knew existed. They keep pace with each other without needing to try.

It’s the first night since they’ve known each other that they fall asleep exhausted by more pleasure than pain.

They stretch their time in Ashland into the third day, and then they have to move on.

*

The bus drops them off outside Fish Lake, and they stare at the trailhead side by side.

“Um, you go on ahead,” David says.

“Or do you want to go?”

They could go together, but neither of them offers that.

“No, I think I’ll… journal for a bit?” David unzips his pack and looks around for the least dirty place to sit. “I have, uh, a lot to catch up on.”

“Sure.” Patrick feels himself blushing. “I’ll see you later.”

He signs the trail register:

Welcome back.
     - Patrick Brewer

*

Oregon is flat and wet and green and cool. Patrick fills up on the breeze and sunshine during the first stretch of meadow, then lets the tall trees swallow him whole. For the first time in a long time, he can see the beauty around him without needing to filter it through someone else’s eyes first. The rest did him good.

He intends to make it a short day, but the ground passes more quickly under his feet than he expects. A trail marker tells him he’s gone twelve miles before he knows it, and he finds a good campsite in the crook of a stream.

When David catches up an hour later, Patrick is sitting on the bank, his bare feet submerged up to the ankle. David frees himself from his pack, and Patrick reaches for his hand.

“Join me,” he says.

David does. Then he drops his head on Patrick’s shoulder and sighs, “Is it weird that I missed all this?”

Patrick decides this question doesn’t need a direct answer. “I missed it, too.”

*

They’re setting up for dinner when there’s a rustling in the trees nearby. It’s something bigger than a squirrel, and David’s eyes dart around in a way that says he’s appraising all nearby objects for heft and accuracy of throwing. Before he can settle on the best option, though, the rustling becomes a person. Then two people.

“Oh, sorry.” The first person says when she sees them. She’s a black girl in her early twenties, her hair done up in a colorful wrap. “We were just following the stream looking for a campsite.”

“Hope we didn’t scare you,” says the second person, a white girl around the same age. The blonde bun on top of her head is streaked with teal.

A third person emerges from the bushes, wearing a pair of square-framed glasses under a crew cut. The eyes behind the lenses are bright green and grow wide. “Oh my god, are you David and Patrick?”

“That’s us,” Patrick says. He’s never seen these people before, but there’s something about them he recognizes. Probably the backpacks and grime. Fellow PCTers.

“We’ve been behind you since Sierra City,” continues Glasses. “We never thought we’d catch up to you.”

“Well, they never thought we’d catch up.” The girl with the bun says, bopping Glasses on the shoulder. “Cherise and I are optimists.”

It takes Patrick a few blinks to realize that she’s referring to a single person with that they. All three of them have enamel pins clustered on their pack straps, among them rectangles of rainbow and pink-purple-blue, black-gray-white-purple, purple-white-green. He can’t place all the color schemes, but he knows they’re pride flags. Something inside him sits up a little straighter. So to speak.

“Personally I’m with them,” David says, waving an easy hand at Glasses before using it to indicate introductions. “David, the pessimist. Patrick’s the optimist.”

“I’m Bex,” says Glasses. “My two insufferably cheerful companions are Anya and Cherise.”

“My condolences,” David winces.

“Ouch. I don’t know about you two,” Patrick says to Anya and Cherise, “but I’m feeling a little attacked.”

“Aw, that’s just Bex being Bex.” Cherise plants a big kiss on Bex’s cheek. “It’s why we love them.”

“Sure is!” Anya chuckles brightly as Bex scowls. “We’ve found that’s the best revenge.”

The warm knot of camaraderie between these three reminds Patrick of his university days, being with his teammates on a field or his cast mates on a stage, but it’s also not like that at all. Whatever connection they share is deeper than any roles they’ve been assigned to play. He doesn’t think he’s ever had friends like these.

“Anyway.” Bex wipes their cheek. “Reading your entries in the trail register has been keeping us going for a long time.”

“Yes!” Cherise gives an emphatic nod. “Especially David’s Beyoncé lyrics. Truly an inspiration.”

“Your last one, though, we couldn’t place,” Anya says. “I don’t think this is a moment-in-time kind of thing. What song is that?”

Patrick’s brain is still piecing together what’s happening, but his heart is already pounding.

“Oh, it’s—It’s not from a song.” David looks down at his fingernails in a way that seems nonchalant, unless you know better. “That one was just me. Working through something.”

The chatter between the three friends continues, but Patrick keeps his attention fixed on David’s downturned face. He pictures David where he left him back at the trailhead, filling his journal pages with Ashland, then writing a confession in the register that Patrick never would have known about. Except now he does.

“Do you mind if we camp with y’all tonight?” Cherise asks. “You found a nice spot.”

“Please.” David looks up then, but not at Patrick. He gestures around at the little clearing in the woods. “There’s plenty of room.”

The moment to acknowledge the accidental revelation gets lost in the bustle of unpacking gear, setting up tents, cooking dinner. Cherise declares it a good night for a fire, and once she builds it, the five of them gather around to eat their separate portions of rehydrated goop and exchange trail stories. The three friends are students at the University of Oregon, and they’re stopping in Eugene, about a week ahead, just in time for the new quarter. This reminder of time passing weighs heavy in Patrick’s chest. He doesn’t remember reaching for David next to him, but he ends up stroking a hand up and down his thigh.

“So how long have you two been together?” Anya asks, scraping the bottom of her mug.

The fire crackles into a silence that drags a beat too long.

“Oh, we’re just—”

Patrick squeezes a hand on David’s knee to interrupt him. Needing to not hear how that sentence ends, he grasps onto the first thought he has.

“Five years.”

“Five years?!” David wheels on him.

“I know, it’s crazy to think it’s been that long, right?” Patrick truly has no idea what he’s doing, but he keeps talking. “We met out here on the trail, five years ago.”

David gapes at him like he’s lost his mind, and maybe he has. But he’s pretty sure he can take David down with him.

“You met out here?” Cherise asks.

“Yeah, it’s a cute story, actually.” Patrick looks David right in the eye, his voice steady as he tells almost the full truth. “We both came out to solo hike, but then my tent blew off a cliff in the mountains. He invited me to share his, mostly because he wanted to jump my bones.”

David blinks at him. Patrick remembers an improv class he took once, back when he used to host open mic nights. It was all about being in the moment with your scene partner, taking what they gave you, accepting it, and building on it by saying Yes, and. He can’t imagine David ever setting foot in an improv class, but he thinks David has it in him to say Yes, and all the same. Yes, Patrick, you’re choosing to tell this unnecessary and elaborate lie, and I will join you, because why not?

“Well.” David shakes his head, but a slow grin spreads across his face. “I sure took my sweet time, uh... jumping your bones.”

Patrick’s laugh is equal parts relieved and giddy. “The way I remember it, that had more to do with me feeling insecure about my gorgeous, perfect body.”

“Mmm.” David squints. “That doesn’t explain why it took me almost a week to even kiss you.”

“You needed to work your way up to it!” Patrick hooks a thumb at him and turns to their audience across the fire. “He had a panic attack the first time we kissed.”

“Which you found incredibly adorable and flattering!” David objects.

Anya is looking at them with round and shining eyes. “I love that you’ve told this story so many times that you can fill in each other’s side of it.”

Patrick feels a charge go up his spine. He turns to David and sees something similar in his expression. Permission. A challenge. Patrick remembers, belatedly, that David is a terrible liar. It’s one of the first things he ever shared about himself. But he’s able to sell this charade, because the lie is only on the surface, with nothing below it but the truth. They can keep this going.

“At first we thought it was just temporary,” Patrick says. “A few nights together before I could buy a new tent.”

“Except after a few nights together, he didn’t want his own tent anymore.”

“And yet I still kept saying I was gonna quit.” Patrick bumps David’s shoulder with his own. “He really, really didn’t want me to quit.”

“But he never really planned to quit.” David says the next part straight to Patrick. “He made his friend back home pack a dozen new resupply packages just so he wouldn’t have to quit.”

“Oh my god,” Bex says. “This is the most romantic thing I’ve ever fucking heard.”

Patrick, still looking into David’s deep brown eyes, can’t help but agree. “Yeah, it was pretty romantic. Or at least David thought so. He told me he loved me after like a week.”

“Okay, I think it was closer to a month?” David defends himself. While actually defending Patrick. “And anyway, you—You couldn’t get enough of hearing me say it.”

“I guess I did end up believing you, huh?” Without dropping his gaze, Patrick finds David’s hand and threads their fingers together.

David presses his smile between his teeth for just a second, then lets it out, nodding. “I can be very convincing.”

“Jesus,” Bex groans. “I’m obsessed with this.”

“So what happened when you finished the trail?” Anya has her knees drawn up to her chin. “What did you do?”

Patrick takes a sip of his soup, knows he’s about to push his luck, and does it anyway.

“David, why don’t you tell them what happened?”

The fire crackles. David’s mouth takes on several silent shapes, conveying shock, delight, a hint of betrayal, before settling on a sort of quiet helplessness.

“I don’t know,” he says. “We just… knew each other by then. Saying goodbye was too hard.”

It’s not a logistical answer. It does nothing to solve the problems of separate geography, separate families, separate careers, separate lives. But it’s enough to build on.

“So we didn’t say goodbye,” Patrick finishes.

“Oh my god, look at Anya,” Cherise cackles. “She’s literally swooning.”

“Shut up.” Bex waves her off. “Someone needs to buy the movie rights to this story.”

“Seriously,” Anya sighs.

Before he lets go, David squeezes Patrick’s hand.

*

“I thought you promised no future talk,” David says once they’re tucked up in their tent together. Their younger companions are still giggling around the fire.

“Technically that wasn’t future talk,” Patrick replies. “It was talk about an imaginary past where I was you, and you were me. Totally different thing.”

“Mmm. Nice loophole.”

“Thank you, I was proud of it.” Patrick brings David’s hand to his lips. “I’m very happy for that alternate universe David and Patrick. Sounds like they made things work.”

Patrick spends the next minute kissing down each of David’s long fingers, feeling the silver rings grow warm under his lips. He gets a little lost in the familiarity of it, until David’s voice brings him back.

“I’ve never had a relationship last for five years.”

Patrick glances up at him. “Okay, there’s one truth. What else you got?”

“Um, my longest relationship lasted for five months.”

This seems like it’s probably a lie, but Patrick waits to hear the third statement.

David takes a deep breath in then angles his eyes skyward before letting it out. “I don’t think this is a moment-in-time kind of thing. I don’t think it will pass.”

Patrick doesn’t give him a kiss so much as it explodes out of him. He closes the short distance between them and finds David’s mouth on the other side, ready to meet him. He pulls back eventually, using the last of his breath to whisper, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

“Well.” David smirks. “That’s three truths.”

“Yeah.” Patrick smiles. “You have a way of making me do that.”

*

Oregon continues to slip by quickly. Patrick chalks it up to the easier terrain, the more bearable climate, his hard-earned endurance. Or maybe his feet are just ready to be done. Maybe they’re ready to find out what’s next.

He and David still don’t talk about it. They don’t make plans or promises; they don’t waste time worrying or sulking. They spend their days hiking alone and their nights laughing together, like always. And that’s enough. Patrick feels ready anyway. This might be almost over, but it’s not the end. He’s pretty sure.

Before he knows it, he’s tearing open his last resupply box just outside Crater Lake, about two weeks from when he should reach the Bridge of the Gods. He’s immediately glad he did it alone, without waiting for David to catch up, because there’s an envelope with familiar handwriting sitting right on top. A letter from Rachel.

His stomach drops into a small moment of disorientation, like it thought there was one more step at the top of this staircase, but there isn’t. It’s not like he forgot about her. He’s thought about her a lot out here, about all the time they spent together, all the times they split up, all that they meant to each other. But until this moment, he’s been thinking about her in the past tense. He forgot that while he’s been out here with David, she’s been back home on her own, trying to make sense of a life they thought they were meant to share.

He packs up his new supplies, slips the envelope into his back pocket, and keeps going on the trail.

Crater Lake is exactly what it sounds like, a lake formed by a crater. Sitting on the rim feels like teetering on the edge of the world, dangling your feet over some alien planet made of water, deep and impossibly blue.

Patrick twirls the letter between his fingers. Rachel still writes her lower-case As as tiny capitals, just like she decided to do one bored afternoon back in Grade Eleven. Once she put her mind to it, it only took a couple hours’ practice to retrain her hand. He catches himself half-wishing the envelope might accidentally slip from his fingers, sink unread into the watery depths below, and that’s when he tears it open.

Patrick,

Congratulations on reaching the last checkpoint! Your mom says you’re doing well. We’re all really proud of you.

I’ve rewritten this letter about ten times, and I can’t find anywhere else to start except to say that I miss you. I keep thinking about where we left things, and I’m sure we both said things we didn’t mean. Can we talk about it when you get home?

Yours,
Rachel

Reading through it again, he gets stuck on that I’m sure in the second to last sentence. He traces those two words with his fingers, remembering a time when he would have latched onto them, run toward the promise behind them. Rachel always was so sure about him. About them. It was hard not to want to be a part of that.

The impulse is gone now. He has his own certainty to run toward.

Searching the side pockets of his pack for paper, all he finds is the copy of At Home that he hasn’t picked up in months. He has to laugh at the Patrick of four months ago, the pre-PCT Patrick, who thought reading about the history of candlesticks and coffee tables would make him feel more at home in the wilderness. By now he knows that being at home isn’t something you build out of stuff. Being at home starts with yourself.

There are a few blank pages at the end of the book. He tells himself that he has no choice, that it’s for a good cause, and begs forgiveness from the ghost of Mrs. Langston, his elementary school librarian, as he tears one out. Then he writes.

Rachel,

I’m going to start this by saying that I only have one sheet of paper, and this probably isn’t going to come out right the first time, so I’m sorry that I can’t try again.

I’ve changed out here. Or, I’m the same as I always was, but now I see myself more clearly. I think I spent a lot of my life afraid to be selfish. I was afraid people would get hurt, but people got hurt anyway. I hurt you anyway.

Sorry, this is cryptic, but there are things I don’t want to say in a letter.

Let’s talk when I get back, but you should know I’m not planning to come home. Not for good. I think I need to build my life somewhere else. For a little while, at least. For now.

Take care of yourself (I know you will),
Patrick

He sits with the letter open in his lap for a long time. Then he folds it up and tucks it away in his pack. He’ll post it at the Crater Lake visitor’s center before he moves on. It will mean going backwards a bit on the trail, but it has to be done.

*

By the time David sits down next to him on the rim of Crater Lake, Patrick isn’t crying anymore, but it’s probably obvious that he has been.

“Everything okay?” David asks, his careful tone a confirmation.

“Rachel wrote to me.” Patrick looks out across the lake, at the cliffs ringing the opposite edge. If there’s anyone over there, he can’t tell from here. “Nothing bad, she just said she misses me and wants to talk when I come home.”

David shifts restlessly next to him but doesn’t speak.

“I’m pretty sure she’s counting on us getting back together. We always have before.” Patrick looks down at his hands. “It occurred to me that maybe she feels about me the way I feel about you, and I… broke my own heart a little, thinking about that. That’s all.”

Patrick feels David’s hand at the back of his neck, and the pressure of it refocuses his thoughts.

“Anyway, I wrote her back saying I’m not coming home. Well, I’ll go home. I’m not going to live out of this pack forever. But I’m not staying.”

“Where will you go?” David asks.

“I’m not sure yet.” Patrick gets his first look at David’s face. “Hey. Everything okay with you?”

“Hm? Yeah. It’s just. Heights.”

There’s some truth to this statement, but there’s something else, too. The wind rustles through several sheets of paper clutched in David’s hand.

“What’s that?”

“Um, a letter from my sister.” David leafs through the pages absently, not reading them.

“Looks like a long letter.”

“Yeah, she finally graduated high school English and thinks that makes her a master of the epistolary form, I guess?” David gives him a sideways glance. “Literally, that was her thesis statement. In this letter, I intend to show that I am a master of the epistolary form. She underlined it and everything.”

Patrick isn’t sure if he’s allowed to laugh at this. He’s always had a hard time judging sibling dynamics, never having had any himself. His cousins don’t quite count when it comes to things like this. Either way, he runs out of room to laugh when David keeps talking.

“She did get around to the point eventually, though, which is that Christmas World backed out of their deal. For the general store,” David clarifies. “My mom’s on town council. They’re going to hold the lease for me.”

“David, that’s great news! Congratulations.” Patrick reaches for David’s arm and squeezes it. The smile he gets in return is too small for his liking, so he adds, “I know you’ll make it beautiful.”

“Yeah, that’s not the part I’m worried about.” David shrugs. “It’s more the part with the forms and taxes and write-offs. And grants, apparently, which I didn’t even know I didn’t know about until you mentioned them. So who knows what else.”

David gazes out across the water, and Patrick joins him. A breeze ripples the surface of the lake, reminding Patrick of what his dad taught him once, the hard way, about paddling a canoe into a headwind. You can use all the strength you have, but if you don’t have a partner who can match you, you’ll never get anywhere.

“It’s a really nice letter, actually,” David says. “Alexis got quotes from everyone in town, saying how they look forward to shopping in my store. I’m sure she made half of them up—I mean, who the fuck is Gwen?—but still. It’s nice.”

Clouds swirl overhead, puffy and nonthreatening. David leans back on his hands, squinting up at the clouds like he can interpret some message from their shapes.

“It made me think about what it would have been like to meet you back home, with all those people around,” David continues. “My sister can be good at reading people, so she probably would’ve known you were interested in me before I did. Stevie definitely would’ve known I was interested in you before I did. The only person my mom ever thinks about besides herself is my dad, and she’s convinced that makes her good at giving relationship advice. Sometimes she’s even right. Though if I have to hear that John Cougar Mellencamp story one more time…”

Patrick has lost the thread of the conversation, if he’s being honest, but it’s clear David’s ramping up to something. He waits.

“Anyway um, it’s nice, knowing that all those people... care about me, or whatever, and would’ve helped me be happy. But I think I’m glad I did this on my own.”

“Did what?” Patrick asks.

“Fell in love with you.”

The words aren’t a shock or a surprise or a revelation. They’re better than that. They’re just the truth. David looks at him with a steady gaze, and Patrick feels like he could float right off the edge of the world. It’s like one of those perfect moments that you dream about. He can’t let it end.

“Listen, David—”

“Let’s not, okay?” David interrupts, waving a hand toward the trail, indicating a direction he probably thinks is North but is actually East. “Let’s just finish this. Let’s finish this first. And then we’ll see about the rest. Okay?”

Once David brings his hand back to cradle Patrick’s jaw, it’s impossible to object. Finding the right angle to kiss as deeply as they want to without tumbling over the rim of the crater is tough, but they manage.

“Hey.” Patrick pulls back just far enough to lean their foreheads together. “Say it again.”

“I love you, Patrick.” David’s mouth curves into a smile, and Patrick has to kiss it.

“Mmm,” he hums as they break apart. “Now say it fifty more times.”

David laughs. “Don’t get greedy.”

“I’m just saying, you have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Okay.” David scowls.

Patrick kisses that, too.

*

On their last day on the trail, Patrick wakes up with David in his arms. He’s a surprisingly capable little spoon; his long body knows exactly how to fold itself up small when it wants to be loved. Patrick spends a few minutes alone with the feel of David’s heartbeat under his palm, and then they’re both awake.

“Are we ready to do this?” David asks without turning over.

“Let’s do it together,” Patrick answers into his ear.

They roll up what needs to be rolled, pack up what needs to be packed, and strap down what needs to be strapped, all for the last time. When they set off for the trail, the four holes their tent stakes left in the ground are the only signs they were ever there. They have just seven miles left to cover today. It’ll be over before they know it.

Patrick’s surprised to find that having David beside him on the trail isn’t that different from being alone. Or maybe he isn’t surprised. They don’t pressure each other for companionship or force conversation. It comes easily.

“So what do you do out here alone?” David asks at one point. “How do you usually fill your time?”

“I sing a lot.” Patrick shrugs. “Like, the same things. Over and over.”

“Like what? Give me a taste.”

Patrick doesn’t have to think it over. He knows exactly what he’s going to sing. “This one has been in my head a lot lately. Remember the Reese Witherspoon movie that brought me out here? This was the last song on the soundtrack.”

The folk song has a well-worn melody, and his voice settles right into the groove of it:

“From this valley they say you are leaving
We shall miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
For you take with you all of the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while

Then come sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
Just remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy that's loved you so true”

When he’s done, David steps in front of him on the trail, takes Patrick’s face between his hands, and kisses him. It’s the first time they’ve kissed like this, Patrick realizes, standing in the midmorning sunshine with their packs still on their backs and the wind rustling the trees all around them. There are still so many circumstances under which they haven’t kissed, and Patrick wants to discover them all.

They hike in silence for a while after that, and that comes easily, too.

*

The last mile before Bridge of the Gods is a road walk through the town of Cascade Locks. They leave the cover of the trees and have to readjust to the feeling of pavement under their boots. The bridge is in sight up ahead when they pass by a post office.

“Hey,” Patrick says, pulling up short. “Give me a second, okay?”

He ducks inside without even taking his pack off. The postcard rack is bursting with photos of the bridge, and he pulls down the closest one without scrolling through them.

I made it, is the message he writes next to his parents’ address. He writes it small this time, because he has more to say:

I met someone out here. His name is David. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope you get to meet him someday.

He thinks about his parents adding this postcard to the others already hanging on their fridge at home—I’m alive, I’m happy, I’m safe. He hopes they can see how these pieces assemble into a full picture. The cap is back on his pen before he decides to add something else:

I’m sorry for doing this in a postcard, but it couldn’t wait. I have a lot to tell you when I get home.

One more pause, and then he squeezes in a final line:

P.S. Please don’t say anything to Rachel. I’ll tell her myself.

When he comes back outside, David is standing in front of the diner next door, staring longingly at a sign advertising Pancakes All Day.

Patrick chuckles and tugs him away by the arm. “Later, David.”

“Sure, you got to make a stop,” David grumbles.

“We’re almost there.”

Compared to all the spectacular scenery they’ve had laid out in front of them the past few months, the view from the Bridge of the Gods is nothing special. It’s a valley with wooded hills on either side, like dozens of others they’ve seen by now. The Columbia River is wide and powerful, but they don’t need to ford it. They don’t even need to cross the bridge. They come to the middle and stop.

They stop.

Just like that, in this somewhat arbitrary spot halfway over the border to Washington State, Patrick has taken his last step on the Pacific Crest Trail. The next step he takes will be the start of something new.

He leans into his palms on the railing of the bridge and feels David do the same next to him.

“This is where the movie ends, you know?” Patrick says. “Cheryl Strayed makes it to the bridge, and then says in voiceover that she didn’t know it, but she would get married near this spot, four years later.”

David’s question is just audible over the rushing water below. “What do you think you’ll be doing in four years?”

“No idea,” Patrick says, the words a wild thrill in his veins.

He used to have nothing but plans for four years from now. A wife, a house, a dog, kids. They were four-year plans that used to comfort him, that used to make sense, as long as they stayed at the four-year distance. Patrick doesn’t need that kind of comfort anymore. It had taken so much effort to build those plans and almost nothing to shed them, in the end. He dropped them a while back, like dropping a pebble from this bridge, just let go and trusted gravity to do the rest.

He turns to David. “But I know what I’m gonna do right now.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m going to buy you pancakes.” Patrick slides one arm around David’s waist, then the other. “And then I want to hear all about this town where you live.”

A smile blooms on David’s face, from his mouth up to his eyes, and it keeps going, spreading outward, overtaking his whole body. He presses his fingertips into Patrick’s biceps, his shoulders, his neck. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Patrick beams. “I may have mentioned it, but I’m looking for a new place to call home.”

“So you figured you’d exile yourself on my island of misfit toys?”

“I know this guy there who’s also starting over. Seems perfect.”

And that’s the first time they kiss on a bridge, the first time they kiss to the sound moving traffic, the first time they kiss not as fellow hikers but as something new to each other. They get so caught up in it that they almost forget to celebrate the other thing.

“Hey,” Patrick says when he remembers, making a broad gesture at everything around them. “We did it.”

“We did it,” David agrees.

On their way to pancakes, they stop by the foot of the bridge to sign their last trail register. Patrick gets out his pen, then passes it to David, saying, “It’s your turn to go first.”

David’s hand spends a minute swooping across the page, and when it’s done, Patrick steps up and reads:

Things David Rose is ready for after fifteen hundred miles, two truths and one lie:
     Sleeping on Egyptian cotton sheets
     Answering my family’s questions
     Wearing bespoke knitwear

A smile tugs at the corner of Patrick’s mouth as he writes:

Things Patrick Brewer is ready for:
     Finding out what bespoke knitwear is
     Never eating oatmeal ever again

He glances at David beside him, bouncing impatiently to soothe his empty stomach, and decides—why not?—to make it three truths:

     The life I want