After a silent lunch where I wonder, again, what the hell I’m getting myself into, we pack our bags into Astrid’s truck and hit the road. We make two stops, to pick up food and a few first aid supplies because I didn’t think her kit was sufficient enough.
That had amused her. I’m quite sure she thinks she can stitch cuts back together with grass and twigs or some shit like that.
I like butterfly bandages and sterile water, personally.
As soon as we leave the city, though, my unease falls away. Ahead of us are mountains, and they are beautiful. Different from Colorado, but a similar kind of promise. Sore legs, happy lungs, bright sunshine on my face.
“You like the outdoors, obviously,” Astrid says from the driver’s seat.
I smile as I gaze out the window. “Obviously.”
“How long did you work for the Park Service?”
“Three summers, and then I got hired on a full-time contract in January.”
She doesn’t say anything, and I try to ignore the silence. She’s said she prefers it, and that’s okay. Weird, but fine. I like noise. I like talking. I’ll talk just to make chatter, just to fill a void, and actively not doing that is hard.
But this silence is different. She’s saying something by not saying anything at all.
I twist around to look at her. “It was worth it.”
She makes a slight face, like she’s not sure she believes me.
I’m not sure I believe me, either. “I think, anyway. I want it to be have been worth it. At the time…” I shake my head. Immediately after the election, federal employees had been muzzled. I’d been outraged, and like other rogue agents around the country, I took to Twitter and made an unofficial protest account.
How was I to know it would take off like that?
Would you have done it if you’d known it wouldn’t remain safe and anonymous? That’s the million-dollar question.
“You were angry and outraged,” she says softly. “Sometimes we don’t think clearly.”
I frown. “I knew it was a risk. Wait, you weren’t outraged?”
“I was.” She sighs. “I am. But I wasn’t shocked. That’s the difference between us, Brianne. I saw this coming a long time ago. I’ve been outraged for twenty-five years. You need to learn how to pace yourself.”
I fight back the urge to snap back. This time it’s different, this time more is on the line. Twenty-five years? I look at her again and try to figure out what I’m missing.
She sighs and rolls her head to one side, then the other. “I’m gay, Brianne. Growing up, I knew—before I even had the words for why I loved other girls, and not boys—that the future other people had offered to them was not available to me. I have lived my entire life angry and frustrated and pissed-off, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for joy. Trust me when I say you need to pick your battles.”
Heat spikes inside me, embarrassed and ashamed. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m fine. I have found my joy, and I do what I can while not burning myself out. It’s a balance.”
What do you do? How do you find that balance? I want to ask a million questions, but I can’t.
For the first time since I arrived, I’m truly speechless.
But instead of sinking into the silence, Astrid keeps talking as the road twists and winds us closer to the mountains. Maybe they change her just as much as they change me.
“That’s why I’m here. I moved to Vancouver in 2003. As soon as Canada had legal gay marriage, I knew this was the place for me. And my wealth allowed me to immigrate here, which is a blessing I will always be grateful for.”
“Are you…” I trail off, thinking of her house, too big for one person.
“I thought there was someone who might follow me here,” she says. “I was wrong. But it didn’t change my decision. It reinforced that this was the right place for me, but also that not everyone has that option. Most people don’t.”
“We have gay marriage now,” I whisper.
“Yes. We worked hard for that.”
“Not all advocacy is on Twitter,” she says more gently than I deserve. “What I’m saying is, actions speak louder than words.”
And I ran away after chirping behind an anonymous shield for months. “My actions say I’m a big scaredy-cat, then,” I mumble, and she laughs.
Astrid Dane has a lovely, incredible laugh. It’s rich and ringing, and it pushes right into my chest, scrubbing away the embarrassment that had lodged itself around my heart. “Are you looking to be punished for that?”
“I…” I sigh. “I think the whole thing has revealed me to be a little lost.”
“You’re what, twenty-two? Being lost is the name of the game.”
That makes her laugh again. “And the year makes all the difference.”
“I’m not a stupid kid,” I protest.
“Nobody said you were stupid,” she murmurs, her lips curling up at the ends. She doesn’t look my way, so I don’t get to glare at her about calling me a kid.
I look out the window instead. “Are we almost there?”
That makes her laugh again, which makes me smile, and it’s worth the fact that we’ve both now conceded I’m a child in the grand scheme of political protest compared to the all-knowing, all-seeing Astrid Dane.
She’s successful and beautiful and wealthy.
I’m a funny kid.
But I’m a funny kid who can climb like a billy goat, so as soon as we get up onto the mountain, I will be useful to her. And then we’ll see who’s laughing.
copyright Ainsley Booth, 2017
Ainsley Booth is an alter-ego of Gigi Ford. All rights reserved.