Content warning: Strong language
It was morning by the time the bus rolled into the dusty little town of Willingdon. From what May could see, the place itself wasn’t especially remarkable, but from here the bus route veered off in the opposite direction of where they needed to go. She and Em gathered their packs and hobbled down to the street, stiff and groggy from their cramped night on the seats.
On the sidewalk Em nodded toward a large map of the town and surrounding area that was posted outside the station; it was where they had been told to wait for further instruction. They shuffled over to it, yawning and stretching as they went, and surveyed the lattice work of neat little roads to kill time.
“Look,” May pointed to one on the far side of town and grinned. “This one is called ‘Dingus Street’.”
Em snorted. “Who comes up with this shit?”
A pack dropped to the ground a couple feet to their left. May recognized it as Connor’s and intensified her focus on the streets, knowing neither she nor Em was supposed to acknowledge the others so long as they were out in public.
Priva stepped forward and wordlessly tapped her lips as her eyes scanned the map.
“Yikes,” Em muttered. “‘Loveless Lane’.”
May studied the street Em pointed at. “Bleak.”
“Here,” Priva announced, jabbing at a place on the outskirts of town somewhere well past Dingus Street. “This is the pull-off for the trailhead.”
Out of the corner of her eye, May made out a dotted path snaking out to the north from the pull-off. She sneaked surreptitious glances at it while pretending to look for more odd street names.
“From the looks of things it would take most of the day to get to the first lake.” Priva gestured to the tip of a body of water just visible along the edge of the map.
“That should still give us plenty of time to set up camp,” Jeremy noted with a false cheeriness that seemed eerie after his sneering, sullen attitude.
“Should we refresh our supplies?” Connor asked.
Em burst into laughter. “There’s seriously a place called ‘Lickkity Way’ here.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively at May.
“Behave yourself for once in your life.” May gave her a playful shove.
“We’ll leave in twenty minutes,” Jeremy said, his remarkable cheerfulness disappearing completely.
The plan was fairly straightforward: the two groups would appear to go their separate ways from the station and find each other again later at a meeting point. In this case, the beginning of the West Green Crest Trail, which would lead them to the next town on their route.
While Jeremy, Priva, Connor, and Rue divvied up their shopping list and beelined for a grocery store, May and Em grabbed breakfast at a charming little family-run cafe. May took her time savouring her hot tea and fresh pastry knowing it would be days before she’d get to enjoy creature comforts again.
As they left, the pair spotted the others up ahead, making their way to a store specializing in camping and outdoor supplies. The girls strolled at a leisurely pace, mindful to keep their distance. Music wafted from a cobbled plaza that opened off the street; a busker played folksy renditions of popular songs to a small gathering of onlookers. Priva slowed, listening. Her features lit up as she recognized the melody.
“Ah, this is my song!” she cried, depositing her bags at Rue’s feet. She snatched the packages in Jeremy’s hands and placed them beside her own. “C’mon, boy. You’re dancing to this.”
May watched with surprise as Priva took him by the hand and dragged him into the center of the plaza. Jeremy didn’t seem put off by her touch, nor by the closeness of her body as they danced; they were clearly used to being in each other’s arms.
“Now that’s an interesting development,” Em muttered, watching the pair with a bemused expression. She gave May a knowing glance before pushing onward.
Curious, May glanced back one last time. If dance was a conversation without words, this one said a lot. That Jeremy and Priva were an item was clear, but May wasn’t fooled. This relationship was one sided; Jeremy’s heart wasn’t in it at all.
The rest of the plan went off without a hitch. May and Em beat WIND to the trailhead and, once the group reunited, they began a long day of hiking. The further they walked the more rugged the trail became, twisting into darker and denser woods. Occasionally the trees would break and open up into lush, sunny meadows, or the trail would meet a babbling creek, which they would cross in single file along aging wooden footbridges. For the most part no one spoke.
May and Em brought up the rear of the pack, letting the others lead the way. They dawdled like children, keeping one another amused and their spirits up. When they passed a grove of fruit trees at the end of their blooming season, May collected handfuls of fallen blossoms and followed behind Em, sticking them here and there throughout her black wig. When May’s feet ached, Em playfully swept her up in her arms and marched until the combined weight of another person and an overstuffed pack became too much.
It took the better part of the day, but by the time they reached what Priva decided was an ideal place to set up camp, the girls’ had managed to lighten the moods of nearly everyone in the group; Jeremy kept gruffly to himself. The rest of the party joked about the sweet relief of abandoning their packs and called dibs on spots to pitch their tents. There were three in total: May and Em, Connor and Rue, and – confirming the girls’ suspicion – Priva and Jeremy.
As May hammered in their final tent peg, Em stood and stretched.
“Who’s in the mood for a camp fire?” She scanned the other two pitches. Everyone else was still a step or two behind in their tent set-up. “Maybe and I will go collect wood.”
“That would be awesome.” Connor smiled at her, appreciative.
Em offered her hand and pulled May to her feet. She didn’t let go as they wandered into the woods.
May waited until she was sure they were out of earshot before she spoke.
“Do you think the whole trip is going to be this awkward?” she asked. “They hardly said anything all day.”
Em shrugged, her attention elsewhere. “It’s a weird situation and it’s not like we got off on the best foot. Can’t blame them for being cautious.”
“And what about you?” May ventured. “How are you-”
She didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence. The trees in this part of the forest were ancient; towering and broad. In one swift motion, Em pulled May behind one and backed her up against its weather worn bark. May didn’t have time to react as Em pressed up against her, kissing her so intensely May forgot what she had been saying.
With a passionate force they usually reserved for the bedroom, Em wedged her thigh between May’s legs and gripped her hips. She pulled her closer, creating a friction so delicious May couldn’t help but moan.
“I didn’t realize how badly I needed a kiss like that until you did it,” May whispered in Em’s ear.
“Whatever happens, I don’t want you to forget what you mean to me,” Em’s voice was low and gruff against May’s cheek. She kissed her again until May was dizzy. “I don’t want us to lose sight of what makes us who we are together.”
“Never,” May breathed, overwhelmed with the heat exploding between them.
Em pawed at May’s body, unzipping her hoodie as she kissed her way roughly down May’s neck. Weak with lust, May gasped and cooed shamelessly, wrapping her legs around Em’s waist as she hoisted her up higher. Em could have devoured her right there – kissing and biting at the soft exposed flesh above the deep neckline of May’s shirt – and May wouldn’t have cared. She wanted it.
A voice rang out. May and Em froze.
“Are you out here?”
It was Priva. Her footsteps were getting closer.
The girls leapt apart. May fussed over fixing herself up while Em snatched a few branches that laid close by
“We’re over here,” Em called back, fighting to keep her tone casual.
May finished tucking her hair back under her hat just as Priva stepped around the tree.
“There you are!” Priva smiled brightly. “I was starting to think you’d gotten lost. Connor found a fallen tree on the other side of the site, so I think we’re good for firewood for tonight.”
“Oh,” Em glanced down at her piddly collection of sticks and laughed. “That’s probably for the best.”
“C’mon.” Priva waved them to follow. “Let’s eat. We’re dying to get to know you both better.”
May shot Em a tense look. Em reached out and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
We’ll get through this together, the gesture seemed to say.
They had no other choice.