Things became quiet as everyone watched the innocent child walk away from them completely overwhelmed, and they all felt pretty bad for the kid. But when he was finally a far enough distance away, their attention turned back to one another and they suddenly realized just how awkward they all felt.
It was amazing how much better they all felt after having unloaded all the weight they’d been carrying for years, but at the same time that guilt was now replaced with fear. All of them felt exposed and none of them thought about the fact that the other’s were just as afraid as they were. Everyone’s emotions were raw by now and they all needed time to recover from this confessional before they could even think about dealing with the truths they’d discovered.
An unspoken understanding passed between them and after a few minutes they began to come to life again. One by one they climbed out of the water and busied themselves with setting up camp. Literally hours passed before anybody spoke a word and for once, it wasn’t Nick. Leighanne was leaning against one of the few trees in the valley keeping a close eye on her son. He was sitting on the riverbank clear on the far side of the valley and had yet to even think about joining the group again. “He’ll be alright.” Kristin said taking a seat next to Leighanne.
“It’s been hours.” Leighanne sighed.
“He’s had a big week. That’s a lot for a kid his age to have to deal with.”
Leighanne watched her son with sadness a moment longer and then finally smiled to herself. “He’s right though, we are all crazy.”
“Especially you.” Kristin teased.
The women laughed for a moment and it felt so good to them both that they held their giggles a little longer than necessary and then laughed at how silly they seemed. “God Kris, I am crazy.” Leighanne said as she calmed her giggles. “I have been so stressed out this week that I never even asked you how you’re doing.”
“It’s alright Leigh.” Kristin said with a soft smile. “I know how hard it must have been for you to come back. It means a lot to me that you did.”
“It was Kevin, how could I not?”
“Only Kevin could reunite all of us from the other side.”
“It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”
“I know.” Kristin sighed. “This whole week has been so crazy that I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. I think it’ll get a lot harder once I get back home ya know? I mean, it’s the house that Kevin built for us, it won’t be the same anymore.”
“Do you know what you’re gonna do?”
Kristin gave Leighanne a bewildered shrug. “I have no idea. Between you and me I’m kind of terrified.”
“If it helps any, I’m here. I promise not to disappear on you again.”
“I know. It does help having you guys back, plus you know, I’ve got Nick. He’s not gonna let me go crazy.”
“So it seems.”
Kristin could feel Leighanne’s smirk without having to look at her. Leighanne held back for a moment but laughed when she saw the twinkle in Kristin’s eyes. “So?” she asked.
“So?” Kristin repeated sarcastically.
“Oh come on Kristin, you know we have to talk about this. Nick just said-
“I know what Nick said.” Kristin stepped in quickly, trying her hardest not to laugh at the excitement in Leighanne’s face.
“And?” Leighanne whined.
“And…” Kristin shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Leighanne gave Kristin a peculiar look and then shook her head. “I was watching you and Nick at the funeral. You can’t tell me it’s all one-sided.”
Kristin’s cheeks turned a deep read and Leighanne laughed again. “Ok, ok.” Kristin finally conceded, “I mean we’re not just going to live happily ever after over night, I don’t think Mercy’s ready for a scandal like that, but,” Kristin shrugged becoming even more red than before, “I can’t say I haven’t thought about it.”
“I say go for it. That town needs a little gossip to be excited about.”
Men are naturally a lot more reserved when it comes to their feelings, therefore they’re much slower at reconciling with one another, but when Kristin and Leighanne burst into laughter Brian, Nick, AJ and Howie all looked up from their various activities and watched them with intrigue. The smiles were relaxed and the giggling between them was cute as hell and it made all four men wish they could be at ease too.
Nick decided to be brave and dug a mini tackle box from his pack. “I was serious about eating good tonight.” He announced to the other men as he held up some fishing line and a fly.
Howie, AJ and Brian all exchanged smirks and then AJ flat out laughed. “Sure Nick.” He laughed, waving him off as if he were being ridiculous.
Nick frowned, causing Howie and Brian to snicker along with AJ and Brian took the line from Nick. “You’d better let me do that.” He said making Nick hand over the collection of flies. “If we let you do the fishing, we’ll all be eating nuts and berries for dinner.”
Nick wanted to pout, but he knew as well as anyone that Brian was right so he handed over his gear with a shrug. Brian headed down to the river and AJ went back to the small note pad he had been writing in before the silence had been broken. Howie watched Brian walk off and then looked at Nick, “Did you bring enough tackle for more than one person?”
Nick reached into his bag and pulled out three more spools of fishing line. “Are you kidding? As much as I break the line, I learned how to come prepared a long time ago.”
Nick started to hand over the gear but then looked at Brian standing alone on the riverbank and grew a wide smirk. “Why?” He teased, “You cruising for a love connection or something?”
AJ looked up from his writing, curious of Howie’s reaction and was glad to see Howie smile as he shook his head. “I like to fish, jackass.” He laughed, surprised that he actually thought it would take longer for the harassment to start.
“Dude,” Nick grinned proudly as he handed over the fishing line, “I’ve got a lot of years to make up for, and I know a lot of gay jokes.”
Howie rolled his eyes and then headed toward the river. He stopped after a few steps and smiled back to Nick. “Brian’s not really my type anyway Nicky.” He said with a wink.
Both Howie and AJ burst into laughter at the sudden look of panic on Nick’s face. “You’re the man Howie.” AJ laughed.
“I know.” Howie said and then headed down to the river.
“You guys sound like you’re having a good time over here.” Leighanne said cheerfully as she and Kristin finally joined them again.
“Nicky’s got a new boyfriend.” AJ laughed.
“That is not funny dude!” Nick grumbled through crimson cheeks.
“He was just giving you shit, ya dumbass.” AJ laughed, “It serves you right anyway.”
“It sounds like we missed quite the party.” Kristin said and then gave Nick a sarcastic sympathetic pat on the cheek. “You shouldn’t tease him about Howie, AJ. You know how homophobic he is.”
“I am not.” Nick pouted.
“Would you rather I tease him about you?” AJ challenged.
The blood drained from Nick’s face in an instant and Kristin forced an awkward smile his direction. “AJ!” Leighanne said forcing a big cheesy smile while she glared daggers at the man. “Just the man I was looking for. You think we could talk for a minute? Alone?”
Leighanne pulled AJ to his feet and elbowed him hard in the side as she carted him off in order to give Nick and Kristin some privacy. When the two were out of sight, Kristin turned to Nick and tried to smile again but it was obvious she was nervous. Nick opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. What exactly was he supposed to say? “Well I guess I answered your question.” He finally muttered.
When he saw Kristin’s frown he explained himself further. “Last night you asked if I thought there was a chance for us.” He said shyly, “I don’t mean any disrespect to Kevin, but I really hope so.”
Kristin blushed as she watched Nick struggle to find the words he wanted to say. “I didn’t mean for you to find out like that,” He stammered, “I just, and everyone was… Well you were there. I think there’s something in that spring water that just makes people get all nutty. That’s probably why it’s not on any map. It might even be what made Howie gay. Maybe we should all see a doctor, just to be safe.”
As Nick rambled, Kristin’s awkwardness faded into a smile. “You talk too much when you’re nervous Nick.”
“I can’t help it.”
“I know.” Kristin laughed softly.
She reached for Nick’s hand and as she laced her fingers in his she pulled herself closer to Nick hoping he would kiss her the way she knew he wanted to. She frowned when he pulled away from her nervously. “What is it?” she pleaded.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I look at you and I see Kevin, and he’s giving me that look. You know, that Kevin look, that cold, stern, warning one that scares the hell out of you. I’m sure he’s turning circles in his grave right now.” Nick stopped, with a puzzled look, “Or he would be if we’d have put him in one.”
“Yeah.” Kristin sighed, “I know that look, but he’s not here to give you that look right now.”
“It doesn’t matter. Kevin would find a way to reach through the veil and murder me in my sleep just for thinking it.”
“He could not.” Kristin said as she tried her hardest to keep a light attitude about the situation. “Nick.” She whispered more seriously. “He’s gone.”
“I know.” Nick replied, unable to crack anymore jokes as he fought back the million and one different emotions he was feeling. “But he was my best friend, and you were his wife, and I know how much you loved each other. I know he’s gone, but it still feels like betrayal.”
Kristin’s eyes became moist, but she gritted a smile. “Kevin,” She said firmly, “My husband, the man I loved? He’s been gone for years. The man that died this week was not him, and I’ve had more feelings for you than I’ve had for him for a long time.”
Kristin’s pained smile turned into a desperate plea. “We both know where this is going anyway,” She said, “So if you really love me like you say you do, then for God’s sake just kiss me! Right now. Please? Because I can’t remember the last time there was passion in my life and I don’t think I can take it much longer.”
A single tear rolled down the side of Kristin’s face and Nick could no longer resist the feelings in his heart that were now pounding clear through his chest. If anyone deserved to be loved, it was Kristin and Nick wanted so desperately to be able to give her that love. Wanting to give her every ounce of passion he had, he threw his lips on hers so fast it made her head spin. She returned the gesture hungrily and the world around them melted away as they finally shared the kiss they’d both been fighting for so long.
“Holy shit.” AJ laughed when he saw Nick and Kristin’s forms sort of blur together in the distance. “That didn’t take long.”
Leighanne watched them with an approving look. “I think we missed a lot over the last 12 years.”
“Maybe.” AJ shrugged, “But then again, you know what they say about funerals and sex.”
“AJ! You’re so bad.” Leighanne laughed.
“Me? What about you, little miss wanna get freaky in the woods?”
Leighanne tried to act appalled, but she was guilty and she knew it. When she had no comeback AJ laughed at her and she sighed dramatically. “You’re right, everyone has sex at funerals.” She laughed and then wrinkled her nose. “Except me. I can’t even get laid by the town slut in a place as romantic as this.”
AJ looked Leighanne over, almost regretting his decision, and then gave a slight chuckle as he shook his head. “Believe me, you almost did, but I wasn’t the one you were wanting to get it from last night. You know, if Brian’s not going to be a priest anymore, you could still get lucky on this trip.”
AJ raised his eyebrows playfully and Leighanne rolled her eyes. “Yeah, couldn’t you just see that turning out wonderfully?” Leighanne thought for a moment and then laughed a little to herself. “I think it’s best if I just stay far, far away from that.”
AJ studied her, trying to decide how much she really meant what she was saying. She saw his puzzled look and sighed. “I really am sorry about last night.” She said sincerely, “I wasn’t trying to make him jealous.”
“I know.” AJ said becoming serious, “You didn’t know he was going to be out there anymore than I did. I shouldn’t have said that. In fact I shouldn’t have said a lot of things I said last night.”
“I needed to hear it.”
Leighanne surprised AJ with an enormous hug. “I owe you a big thank you.” She said, “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have come here. This week has been hell but it’s changed everything. Baylee’s got his father now and I got my friends back.”
“And you’re stuck with us now.” AJ laughed, squeezing her tightly back. “You know, I’m in New York a couple times a year. I’ll have to call you next time I’m there.”
“You’d better.” Leighanne laughed. “You know I went to a book signing you had in Manhattan two years ago.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“You never saw me. I stood outside the bookstore for two hours trying to work up the courage to go inside. Six people asked me if I was alright that day, and we’re talking about New Yorkers so I must have looked really, really bad.”
“I wish you’d have come in.”
Leighanne and AJ smiled at one another and then Leighanne couldn’t resist hugging him again. “Can you believe this week? I was so scared to come here. I never thought we would all be able to walk away friends.”
“I really hope we do.” The smile faded from AJ’s face and he glanced down at the river. “I’m worried about Brian though.”
Leighanne sighed as she pulled herself from AJ’s arms and cast her glance across the valley. “He’s been through so much.” She said sadly, “And he has a lot more patching up to do than the rest of us, but I’m going to make sure he does. At least with me.”
AJ watched Brian and felt sadness in his heart. Even now, he was standing all alone, probably terrified to talk to anyone. “I think that’s a good idea Leigh. He could really use your friendship.”
“He could use yours too.”
“I doubt he wants mine.”
Leighanne once again found herself hugging AJ. “You never know.” She said nudging him softly. “You have to at least try. Whether he forgives you or not he needs to know that you still care, but I think he’s more Christ-like than he gives himself credit for.”
“Me too.” AJ sighed, “It’s kind of sad to see him quit.”
“Yeah,” Leighanne agreed, “If he can lose faith, then there’s sure as hell no hope for the rest of us.”
“Maybe someone should tell him that.”
“Maybe that’s what Nick’s doing.” Leighanne said, surprised to see Nick, of all people, approaching Brian.
AJ watched the two curiously, half expecting Nick to punch the guy. “I seriously doubt that’s what Nick is saying. Maybe we should go over there.”
“Maybe we should give them a few minutes.” Leighanne smiled, “They need it.”
“Eh, you’re right. Maybe we should go harass Kristin about making out with Nick instead.”
“Oh AJ,” Leighanne laughed as she let him slide his arm around her waist and lead her back to camp, “I really have missed you.”