“It’s gorgeous, but so was Lightning Point.” He turned toward the building behind us. “There’s a fucking gift shop up here? Really?” His breath was still labored, so he took another drink of water. “A gift shop and no way down.”
“And a restaurant. I thought you interagency guys were supposed to be in shape?”
“I’m in shape,” he said, standing a bit taller. “Almost thirteen miles of uphill rocky terrain, breathing thinner air, isn’t part of my daily workout.”
“Maybe you should quit smoking,” I said, arching an eyebrow.
“So is that energy bar full of high-fructose corn syrup and saturated fat you ate an hour ago.”
I pointed at a gray-haired gentleman posing with his wife at the Summit Point sign. “He’s not whining.”
Taylor’s face screwed into disgust. “He probably drove up here.” He put his hands on his hips and took in the landscape. “Wow.”
Both times that I’d hiked Barr Trail were with my parents, and we were some of the only locals who had hiked the Peak once, much less twice. My parents were always passionate about seizing opportunities, and failing to hike a famous trail that was practically in our backyard when hundreds of thousands would travel to experience it would have most certainly been a missed opportunity.
That was back when I had been their Falyn—the girl they felt died the night they’d found me in the bathroom, crouched and sweaty, praying for help I couldn’t ask for. But the Falyn they had known didn’t die. She never existed, and that was probably what was so hard for them to accept—that they’d never known me at all. Now, they never would.
Taylor and I ambled about the summit. People were talking, but it was quiet. There was too much space to fill with voices. Taylor took pictures of us with his cell phone, and then he asked the older couple we’d spoken about before to take our photo at the summit sign.
“You’ve got to get a cell phone,” Taylor said. “Why not just get one of those pay-as-you-go phones?”
“I save all my money that doesn’t go to bills.”
“But think about all the pictures you’ve been missing out on.” He held up his phone. “I’m holding these hostage.”
I shrugged. “People have forgotten to use their memories. They look at life through the lens of a camera or the screen of a cell phone instead of remembering how it looks, how it smells”—I took a deep breath through my nose—“how it sounds”—my voice echoed over the smaller peaks below—“how it feels.” I reached out to touch his upper arm.
Something familiar sparked in his eyes, and I pulled away, stuffing my hands in the front pouch of my hoodie.
“Those are the kinds of things I want to keep, not a photograph.”
“When we’re their age,” Taylor said, gesturing to the older couple, “you’ll be glad we have the photograph.”
I tried not to smile. He probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded to me.
Taylor kicked at my foot. “It was a good day. Thanks for riding my ass all the way up.”
“I knew you could do it.”
“I’m just glad I did it with you.”
We locked eyes for an indeterminate amount of time. I knew I should look away, that it was awkward and weird that we were just staring at each other, yet I couldn’t seem to find the desire to look at anything else.
“Today wasn’t just good. It might be my best day so far.”
He thought for a moment. “What if I said yes?”
I blinked, gripping the strap of my backpack. “We’d better head down.”
Disappointment came over Taylor’s face. “That’s it? I tell you that you’re my best day, and all you can say to me is, Let’s go?”
He stared at me in disbelief and then lifted up his hands, exasperated. “Maybe we can hitch a ride from the Summit House employees?”
I shook my head. “No, but we can hitch from there,” I said, pointing toward the highway.
Taylor chuckled as he followed me out to the road. We walked a good fifty yards with our thumbs out until a red minivan pulled over. The driver appeared, looking just as surprised as I felt.
“Corinne!” I said, recognizing Kirby’s mother. “What are you doing up here?”
“Picking up Kostas,” she said simply.
Kirby’s teenage brother leaned forward, his eyes scanning me and then Taylor. The skin below the American flag bandana covering most of his forehead was smudged with dirt.
“Hey, Falyn.” His eyes returned to the screen of the Nintendo 3DS in his hands, and he leaned back against his reclined seat, his dirty feet on the dash.
“We just need a ride to the trail head. His truck is parked there.”
“Get in,” Corinne insisted, waving us inside. “It’s going to rain any minute!”
Taylor followed me into the back of the van.
The moment the tires were in motion, Corinne was full of questions. “Kirby told me you had a new friend.” She looked at Taylor in the rearview mirror as if a wild animal were in her backseat. “She was kidding that he’s a hotshot, right?”
The corners of Taylor’s mouth turned up, but he managed to suppress a full smile.
Corinne targeted Taylor again and then looked forward, both hands on the wheel. “Apapa, Falyn,” she scolded with a perfect Greek accent. “What would your mother say?” Her words were free of any accent at all.
Corinne clicked her tongue and shook her head in disapproval. “Where is he from?”
Corinne was unhappy that he had addressed her, so her questions ceased. She slowed in the parking lot, and we directed her toward Taylor’s truck. She twisted around to watch us exit the van, glaring at Taylor as if she were trying to cast some sort of Greek curse on him with her eyes.
“Later,” he said, still concentrating on his game.
Corinne pulled away, scowling at Taylor, until she decided it was time to watch the road.
Taylor pressed the keyless entry, and I pulled open the door and climbed in, waiting for him to slide in next to me.
“Who was she?” Taylor asked, peeling off his pullover. His T-shirt inched up as he did so, revealing two of his lower abs.
There has to be four more to go along with them and that gorgeous V leading down to his—
“That would be Corinne,” I said, blinking, “Kirby’s mother.”
“She’s Greek. Kirby’s dad was Canadian, I think. Corinne wanted to name her Circe, after a Greek witch. The dad nixed it, thankfully. Kirby was the compromise.”
“Way to stick to your guns, Canada. Where is he now?”
I shrugged. “All Kirby knows is that he was a hotshot.” I left Taylor with that thought, saying nothing else.