It takes the rest of the afternoon to officially disentangle myself from the Park Service and write a dozen polite, professional, not-at-all panicked email job inquiries to people I know. When I finish at the main building, my boyfriend Kaden is waiting for me in the parking lot.
I’ve quit my job. I’m leaving Colorado.
He doesn’t pass judgement on either of those things, though. He gives me one of his trademark warm hugs and I breathe in the scent of his skin. I’m going to miss his hugs. He’s been a simple, solid support over the last nine months as I’ve railed about the injustice of…well, everything.
“I have an early morning flight out of Denver,” I whisper, my voice catching in my throat.
“We’ll miss you.”
I smile against his chest, and the ache in mine eases. We. There’s a solid climbing community here for me to return to when the furor dies down. “Can I stay in your van when I get back?”
He laughs. “Always. Can I stay in your apartment until your lease is up?”
“Are you coming back?”
I sigh. “I don’t know.” My phone vibrates, and I pull it out, wincing.
But it’s not a reporter. It’s a reply to one of my job inquiries.
My heart leaps into my throat as I click on it and read through the brief message. The adventure camp I worked at through college would be happy to have me as a winter guide at their Berkshires starting in a month.
“I think I’ll be heading to the east coast after my trip up north,” I say quietly. A bird in the hand and all that. “So you can have the apartment for sure.”
“Aw, Bri.” I fall into his chest again, and he rubs the back of my head. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
Tears pop up behind my eyelids and I blink them away. He means the job, and he’s right. I had a lot hitched on becoming a park ranger. It had been everything I’d goaled toward—and I hated it. I hate the politics and the rules.
Maybe I set myself up to fail, I think, but I don’t say that out loud.
We go out for dinner, just the two of us, then head back to my place so I can pack. Like all nomadic students, I don’t have a lot of personal belongings, and Kaden will take the household stuff. I do a ruthless purge of extra cosmetics as he chats to me about who climbed what today, then I carefully seal up the essential oils and toiletries I want to take with me.
“So what do know about this photographer?” he asks as he watches me brush my teeth.
“Nothing. She’s Marcus’s cousin, that’s it. Worst case scenario, I’m an awkward house guest for a week or two and I fly to New York early. But if I can fill the gap until I start working, that’ll be ideal.”
“And this is really this big a deal, what you were doing on Twitter?”
I tried to explain it over dinner, but he’s never used the app. He doesn’t know, and he doesn’t really care. I roll my head on my neck. “I don’t know, to be honest,” I say after spitting out my toothpaste. “Reporters seem to think it is. Marcus, too. And it felt like a big deal when I was doing it.” I rub the heel of my hand against my forehead. “And maybe I should face that music, but I talked to Poppy today, and she says it’ll be like vultures descending.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“Yeah.” I wash my face, then put my toothbrush in the outside pocket of my backpack. “Well, I’m all packed.”
“How do you feel?” he asks after we crawl into my bed.
“Tired. Nervous. Sad.”
“Do you want to…” He rubs his hand over my tummy. “I don’t know, fool around or something? A sexy send-off?”
I roll onto my side so I’m looking at him. “I don’t know.”
“That means no,” he says, his eyes warm.
We’ve never had a rip-each-other’s-clothes-off relationship, and I appreciate that he’s not offended. “Yeah, I think it does.”
He also seems to sense I don’t want this to be maudlin. His lips quirk. “No goodbye fuck?”
I laugh. “I don’t want this to be goodbye.”
“Right.” His gaze searches my face. “But maybe an end to…this?” He gently waves his finger back and forth between our bodies. “We’ve never talked about a long-distance thing.”
“That sounds complicated.” And not necessary. “But we’ll always be friends.” I lean in and kiss his lips. His mouth feels warm and stable and friendly.
Definitely no goodbye fuck.
“I think I’ve been doing a lot of things all the wrong way,” I whisper as I snuggle into his side.
“What do you mean?”
I don’t know. That’s the problem. “Maybe I’ll figure that out in Canada.”
copyright Ainsley Booth, 2017
Ainsley Booth is an alter-ego of Gigi Ford. All rights reserved.