Without really paying attention to it, I squeezed the apple in between my hands and dug my thumbs in, ripping the fruit in a neat half.

I handed one half to Johnny, my eyes still scouring the landscape for any signs of campfire smoke.

“Thanks,” he plucked the apple from my fingers, a funny lit to his voice. I turned, slightly confused. Johnny was staring at me, his lips pursed in a tight smile and his eyebrows raised. He looked ridiculous.

I turned back to the view and sighed heavily, attempting to believe the fresh cool mountain forest air would calm me down. My fingers became sticky with apple juice, but I scarcely noticed myself twiddling the remaining half of the apple around.

The silence in the air hung like a dense smog, thick and uncomfortable.

“I can hear your heart beating,” Johnny mumbled, biting into his apple.

“Really? Does it sound like it’s going to give up anytime soon?” I looked at my hands, finally realising the apple I still held.

“Just… when was the last time you like, properly relaxed?” he shifted closer to the edge of the cliff, dangling his ankles off the side.

“What if I don’t find them?” I sagged, my gaze sinking to the drop view directly below us.

I hear him suck in a breath, pondering on how to continue this rapidly unsettling conversation.

“Well, for starters, it’s good you’re entertaining that idea? And … find a way around it,” he bit into his apple again, reasoning deeply.

I turned to look at him, a soft smile creeping into my face. The midday sky cast rays of sun through the tree that shaded us, rays that hit his face in pinpricks.

“For someone who doesn’t really hang around people, you kinda make the most sense,” I chuckled.

“Thank yew,” he grinned.

“So, how far is your friend?” I remembered suddenly. The reason Johnny traveled with me in the first place. Was there a goodbye coming up? My insides clenched.

“He’s actually just over that hill,” he gestured to a clump of trees to our right. Looked like a few hour’s trek, at the rate we were going. “He might be able to tell if your camp came through,” Johnny added, a cheerful lit in his voice.

“What… um,” my mouth hung open a bit, before shutting in a stupid chuckle. “So, are these apple’s like, invasive species? We can’t just chuck ’em anywhere right?” I bit into my half, shutting my thoughts away.

He stared at his own core thoughtfully. “Hmm, now that you mention it? I guess we just have to hold onto these a bit longer, and see if my friend can plant them for his own or something,” he grinned.

“Well then, lets go,” I stood up, wiping my mouth.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” he pulled me back down by the back of my jacket. “Sit and eat! Your body’s under enough stress as it is. Don’t want you hacking an apple out over the next few steps,” he clapped a hand over my knee to keep me from rising again.

His stupid smile and warm  touch made me wish so hard and so badly that he was stalling for time; but that seemed too good to be true.

Still, enjoy it while it lasts, right?

A little heated discussion on how to store the apple seeds, and a few hours later, we found ourselves staring at the path to Johnny’s hermit friend’s shack at the top of the next hill.

“I think it’s best if, you, stayed, here,” he motioned slowly, putting his hands on my shoulders and gently nudging me into the dent of an undergrowth.

“Why?” I frowned.

“Well, this area kinda used to be frequented by Duck Dynasty nut jobs and Sasquatch seekers; and I WILL bite you if you call me Bigfoot again,” he sneered as he saw my grin widen in the middle of his explanation.

“So, wouldn’t it be better if your ‘friend’ saw me with you?” I shrugged.

“He’s… paranoid. I don’t want you in the area if he decides to … hulk out, kay?” he glanced around, a look of concern flooding his features.

My insides went soft and fluttery as he looked at me right in the eyes, hoping that I shared his worry.

“I’m down wind?” I set down my packs and the briefcase.

“Yes.”

“But… if he were… can he like smell you on me?” I tried to recall something I read on the internet about proximity familiarity or some shit like that.

Johnny blushed, actually blushed at that. “Um, uh, have we… spent that much time together?” an embarrassed smile bloomed.

It was my turn for my eyes to go swimming, to focus on anything else but his staring at me. I heard him snigger and step closer to touch the top of my head with his forehead.

“Um, let’s… let’s test that under less uncertain circumstances, okay?” he chuckled and sighed.

My fingers clenched at the hem of his jacket, and I bit my lip to prevent myself from saying anything in the running streak of stupid.

He stood still a little too long, prompting me to reluctantly detach and clear my throat. “Go on, before we lose light,” I avoided, staring at our shadows that met and melded into the forest’s beyond us.

Johnny patted me awkwardly on the head and set off towards the shadows, on the trail. I listened to the sound of his shoes crunching away softly on the earth as my gaze was pulled back to that unassuming silver briefcase that had practically fused itself to me. I found myself thinking of screaming; and how badly that case needed to be on the move again.

I could be so close.

“Hey,” Johnny called back. I looked up to see that he hadn’t gone quite far yet, and seemed like he doubled back.

“Don’t … don’t run off on me, yea?” a strange expression filled his face. He squinted in the sunset light, his hands stuffed into his jacket pockets.

A sudden, hollow feeling flooded me. The sun was bright on the nape of my neck, yet I felt cold.

“I won’t,” I called back, my voice shaking.

“I’ll be back in a bit. Maybe we can … talk? Then?” his shoulders raised.

“Yeah,” I sucked in a deep breath, feeling the pressure lessen on my chest. “I’ll … I’ll stay put,” I turned off into the undergrowth, nudging the briefcase down with the other packs deeper into the bush.

“Okay,” he backed off a little, still watching me; but soon turned around and wordlessly disappeared beyond the little clearing.

I pulled my hood up and dropped down, backing into the bramble. Pulling my knees up to my chest, I wiped my face and was startled to find wet at the corners of my eyes. Suddenly I felt so, so alone. Even the raging voice in my head, always pushing me to go forward, was silent. I fought the urge to just break into sobs, and pressed my forehead to my knees.


Writer’s note: Going through a heavy work overload, mixed with some confidence issues. sorry this one’s so late.

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