“Do you remember when we started doing this?” Trish asked, pulling up her shorts and sliding over the nearest flip-flop with her toes.
Derrick was standing now, looking down at the imprint his body left behind on the towel below. He stretched, popped something somewhere in his back, and walked over to his hiking pack.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Has it really been that long?”
Trish smiled. Sitting here alongside Lily, the smell of early spring and Derrick’s cologne still fresh on her body, made her feel utterly content. Before slipping her second shoe back on, she scooted closer to the stream and dipped in four of her five toes. As much as she loved Derrick, and she didn’t hesitate to call what they had love, nothing touched her quite like Lily did.
“Well, it had to have been early high school.”
Derrick smiled. “How long ago was high school again?”
“Good question,” Trish laughed. She stood up, tossed her wet toes into her other flip flop, and began to fold up the towel. As she shook the dirt off the towel, she could smell herself in its fabric. That’s the way it usually was. The cloth always held on to more of her than Derrick.
“Today was good,” Derrick said.
“They always are.”
Derrick brought his pack over and helped Trish stuff the towel down into the bottom. They followed it up with a lunch box filled with the trash they had produced, not all of which having anything to do with food.
“We have a few hours until sunset,” Trish said, extending her hand out for Derrick to hold. “Let’s take our time on the way back.”
“I’m in no rush.”
Trish detected a tinge of something raw in Derrick’s voice. Without hesitation, she picked at it the way only she was allowed to do. “What’s wrong?”
Derrick did that thing he does with his lips when he wrestles with his thoughts.
“Is it work?”
“That’s part of it,” he said. “Our clients are being a pain right now.”
“They wouldn’t be clients otherwise.”
Derrick laughed. “Yeah, I guess I’ve just been lucky. I’m still friends with a few of our past ones. We helped put up that department store at the intersection of Wardolf and Main Street a few years ago. That was a big project, and we somehow pulled it off without hating each others’ company, so to speak. But these new guys… Man, the headache they’re giving us just trying to put up a building a quarter of the size.”
“What’s the issue?” Trish asked, pretending to be interested in the way lovers have to.
“The land. The previous owners didn’t want to give it up. Something to do with a Civil War battle fought nearby.”
“Not only that, it’s crappy land. We keep trying to point them somewhere else, but they’re absolutely set on this place. Every step of the process has been a nightmare, and we haven’t even put down the first brick.”
“That sucks, Derrick.”
“What about you?” It was time for another topic.
“Things are well. They’re okay, anyway. I haven’t had much time to myself since Sally and Bret were born.”
“I’ve noticed. I mean, I bet.” Derrick didn’t want to sound ungrateful. He knew Trish had a lot on her hands at home, and when they locked eyes for a moment, he conveyed as much through his expression. “Twins. How did you pull that off?”
“I don’t know,” Trish said, pausing, then shaking her head. “No, I do. I couldn’t have done it without Jake.”
“Well that is how these things work.”
Trish would have slapped Derrick on the arm if their fingers weren’t already interlocked. “I know that, silly. What I mean is: he was just so supportive. He took over the grocery shopping, the laundry, the cooking… He insisted that I stay off my feet and told me to focus on nothing but making sure my belly didn’t pop prematurely.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“This was always your dream.”
Trish smiled, the way she did when she was wrestling with her thoughts. Then she stepped into Lily, dragging Derrick with her. He panicked at first, but at this part of the stream, the water only ran a foot deep. A few years prior, he wouldn’t have panicked at all. He knew Lily almost as well as he knew Trish.
They stepped out on the other side, and Trish approached a tree with their names, two among a handful of others, carved in its side.
Trish and Derrick. Together forever.
“We’re doing a good job of that, right?”
Trish laughed, perhaps a tad harder than she should have. “You were an awful boyfriend.”
“What was I supposed to do? Everyone else was going on dates and finding people.”
“You find someone.”
“I had you.”
“You’ve always had me. You always will.”
“So what was the problem?”
“We were never good for one another.” Still smiling.
Derrick looked away, holding Trish’s hand even tighter. He loved Trish more than anyone in this world, but there was no way he could take Jake’s place. He wouldn’t, even if he had the chance. He had, and it didn’t work out.
“I love you,” Trish said, turning Derrick’s face back around and kissing him slowly. Then they stepped back into Lily. They could walk for half a mile before the depth would drop down back to something larger than a foot.
“There’s something else,” Derrick said. “On my mind, that is.”
“What’s that?” She quickly grew anxious. Derrick didn’t often allow Trish to express her affection without returning it.
“I’m thinking of moving. This project has been making me nervous, so I hunted around, and one of the jobs I applied for got back to me.”
“How far away?”
“I’ll never be too far.”
“Four, five hour’s drive.”
Trish grew silent.
“We’ve never lived more than what, thirty minutes apart?”
“I need you now, more than ever. My kids are barely a year old. I don’t know what I’m doing or how I’m going to handle this.”
“Trish, you have Jake. You guys seem to be doing just fine.”
“When was the last time we saw each other?”
“I was pregnant!”
“That was a year ago.”
Trish didn’t like this. Not at all.
“I’ll never be too far away. We’ve always found each other here, and we always will.”
Trish turned to look back at the tree, then she faced the man who had carved their names in so many years prior. Without a word, she kissed him. There they stood, Lily soaking their feet, until the sun had nearly set in the sky. Neighbors could talk, some colleagues suspected, but only this stream knew the relationship that had held these two people together, and it cherished their affection.