Silas walked quickly down the path. Now that he had traveled it for two days he already knew it well enough that he could practically do it blindfolded simply from the way the trail felt under his feet. Even if he couldn’t Adelaide certainly would have been able to, and that would have been more than enough in the event he couldn’t find his way back.
Checking the traps in the morning had taken longer than he had expected it to. He had caught a rabbit and a squirrel the night before, and he didn’t want the meat to go to waste by being eaten by a larger predator. He spent the time necessary to skin and then hang the meat out of reach while he was out of the camp. He had only forty-five minutes left to make his appointment with Chelsea by the time he was done and that camp had been packed up, and that meant he had to rush.
Even with hurrying he was still a few minutes late but Chelsea was there waiting for him. She turned and smiled at him warmly as Adelaide rushed out to greet her. Chelsea squatted to pet her and then stood as Silas joined her at the edge of the dirt road.
"You said you wanted to go for a walk, any ideas on where you’d like to go?" Silas asked cautiously as he looked both ways to see if anyone else was in sight.
"I thought I could just show you around town," Chelsea answered with a shrug. "Maybe show you some of the places that I love. I was just going to start walking and take it from there."
Silas nodded and looked down at Adelaide as he considered how to respond before returning his eyes to Chelsea’s. "As much as I’m normally in support of random wandering, maybe you and I could actually go to my campsite? You fed Adelaide and me yesterday, I figure we could return the favor?"
"Really!?" Chelsea said excitedly. "I would have thought that you were too private for that. I never expected you to ask me, but I’d love to see where you’re living."
"Are you sure? It’s at least an hour hike, and that’s at my speed," Silas replied, sizing her up. She was wearing boots and thick pants, and her jacket did seem thick enough to offer her protection against the cold for an extended amount of time, though he might have to start a fire if he wanted to make sure she stayed warm. That was easy enough, and although the smoke would be noticeable during the day at least the light wouldn’t be.
Chelsea snorted and rolled her eyes. "Drake, I’ve been walking through these woods since I took my first step. I can keep up."
"Is that a challenge?" Silas asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Wait, did you just ask me that so that we could race?" Chelsea replied, grinning wide.
Silas shook his head and gestured toward the trail. "I wouldn’t dream of it. After you, Chelsea."
Chelsea laughed and started down the trail, with Adelaide walking happily along beside her. Silas followed immediately behind her and waited for her to speak. Getting together with Chelsea had been her idea, and he didn’t want to intrude on her wanting to get to know him. It was her gig; her move.
He didn’t have to wait long. Once the dirt road was out of view, Chelsea started talking. "So, Silas, I know some of Ian’s side of the story from what Jenny told me, but would you mind telling me why you left home?"
"Straight to the point, huh?" Silas asked with a dry chuckle. "I think in your heart you already know the answer to that question, given what you know about me already."
Chelsea was silent for a moment and then she asked with more caution, "It was because you’re … gay?"
"That’s right," Silas said. "My parents didn’t exactly kick me out, but they definitely made it seem like they were going to. I chose to leave instead."
"Wait, so you weren’t even kicked out?" Chelsea asked, stopping on the trail and turning toward him.
Silas shook his head. "No, they didn’t. But they kicked Ian out for less. Do you know much about the Mormon Church?"
"A little," Chelsea said with a shrug, "Though I have to say that my f … pastor isn’t very fond of them, and whatever he doesn’t like I tend to give the benefit of the doubt. Like …" She paused and met Silas’ eyes and blushed as she added, "like gay people."
Silas smirked and gestured for Chelsea to continue down the trail as he continued his explanation. "Well, I won’t say that all Mormons are bad, just like I don’t say that about all Christians, but having been raised Mormon and in one of the predominantly Mormon communities in Idaho, I have a lot of experience dealing with them. I suppose it’s all right enough if you’re living within the bounds of their morality, but there are certain things that they do which really drive me up the wall."
"If you don’t obey the rules, they start treating you like you don’t exist. They like to ostracize as their form of punishment," Silas explained through gritted teeth. "At least, that was my experience. I know that they don’t all go to the extreme that my parents did, and some even take it further, but what they did to Ian is atrocious."
"What did they do exactly?" Chelsea asked.
Silas stopped walking and Chelsea sensed the movement and turned around to face him. "I thought you said that you heard the story from Jenny?" He said with raised eyebrow.
"Well, I didn’t get the exact details," Chelsea said with a shrug. "She said that Ian was kicked out of his home, but she didn’t say why, and she didn’t say what your parents did, either. Just that she was extremely upset by the thought that the same thing might have happened to you."
"That’s reasonable," Silas said as he started walking again and Chelsea took the hint and did the same. "In the Mormon Church every man is expected to serve as a missionary. The age used to be nineteen but it was lowered to eighteen some time ago, and a lot of kids don’t end up serving." He rolled his eyes and continued, "I can understand why. At that age you’re looking to go to college; to continue your life. It’s a hard choice for a lot of people. I’ve heard a lot of reasons as to why they asked us to go at that age, but I think that the intention is because it’s supposed to feel like a sacrifice."
"That makes sense to me," Chelsea said with a shrug. "I mean, the importance of sacrifice is pretty common in Christianity. My pastor talks about it all the time. So, Ian didn’t want to go?"
Silas sighed and answered, "No, he didn’t. Actually, he told my parents when he turned eighteen that he didn’t want to go to church anymore. He said that he had lost his faith and that he was an adult and could make his own decisions. My sister Emma told me that my parents gave him until midnight to get his stuff out."
"Your sister?" Chelsea asked. "How many siblings do you have?"
"I’m the youngest of five," Silas replied easily. "I have two brothers and two sisters. Ian was the oldest, Emma was the second, then Rebecca, then Spencer, then me. We’re all two years apart, and my parents planned it that way."
Chelsea asked and turned back toward him, a look of pure empathy on her face as she reached out to him. He stopped before he was within reach and she let her hand drop as she asked, "Don’t you miss your siblings at least?"
Silas shrugged and started walking forward, stepping around Chelsea as he started leading the way back toward the camp. "Sometimes, I guess," he admitted with a shrug. "As far as I know my family never looked for me. I left a note behind that said why I was leaving, and I never heard anything on the radio, never saw anything on a television I walked by. No one was ever looking for me."
"Are you so sure?" Chelsea scoffed. "I mean, your parents may not have, but what if your siblings didn’t know where to begin? What if they didn’t know where to search, or if your parents stopped them from looking?"
Silas shrugged and shook his head. "It doesn’t matter. I can’t allow myself to think that way. Hoping for something like that would be uselessly optimistic. There’s nothing my siblings could have done that would have made it possible for me to come home, and I wouldn’t want to live with my bigoted parents anyway."
"But then why do you hate Ian?" Chelsea asked, and Silas stopped and turned around slowly, raising his eyes to meet hers and seeing the anger in them. She was crossing her arms over her chest and refusing to back down. "Shouldn’t you want to talk to him? Shouldn’t you want to have someone who understands exactly what you went through in your life? I know I would if I were in your position."
"With all due respect, Chelsea, you’re not in my position and you’re never going to be. You have a family that loves you, and you play the good girl card all too well," Silas shook his head and said, "You do not know what it is like to lose everything. You don't know what it's like to feel like everyone who ever claimed to love you has abandoned you."
Chelsea looked away in shame and started walking down the trail again. Silas started moving forward as well, resuming the lead. They walked in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. They were practically at Silas' camp when Chelsea decided to speak again. "I know you think I don't know what it's like but I do know some things, Drake. I know that when you find someone who does genuinely care about you, you have to take the chance on them or you'll regret it. Even if it means going through a little pain to get to where you need to go."
"You sound like you're trying to convince yourself," Silas mused as he looked over his shoulder to smile reassuringly at Chelsea. "Don't worry about me so much. I've got my life working all right, considering my circumstances." He sighed and looked away again as he continued, "Maybe one day I will be able to face Ian, but I'm not there yet. If I am ever at that point, I know where to find him."
"I suppose that will have to do," Chelsea said with a nervous chuckle, though Silas couldn't understand why she would be nervous about anything. He looked back at her and she blushed before asking, "So, what's for lunch today?"
Silas's eyes sparkled as he replied, "Roasted rabbit stuffed with herbs. Well, probably no herbs or stuffing whatsoever, but I do have a bit of salt and pepper I keep around."
"Rabbit?" Chelsea asked excitedly, "I love rabbit! I haven't had it ever since mom went on her vegetarian kick but …" she paused and stifled her excitement. "Did you catch it yourself?"
Silas nodded and they reached the stream that separated them from his campsite. The rabbit was still hanging from the tree where he had left it, almost ready to be cooked. He had intended to make it into a stew with water from the stream, but now that he had a guest he was going to make a fire and make the meal more extravagant.
"Do you know how to cook?" He asked as he turned back to Chelsea. "I'd love some help getting it ready."
"Of course!" Chelsea replied as she started across the stream. "Every good Christian girl has to learn how to cook! Well, at least that's what my mother tells me. Says it's a woman's duty to take care of her husband. I wish I could meet a guy who liked to cook as much as I do …" she paused and turned back toward Silas and sighed, "Oh Silas, why do you have to be gay? I would love to …"
"Stop right there," Silas interrupted with an upraised hand and a chuckle, "Let's avoid that discussion, shall we? Come on, I'll let you help me with the rabbit while I send Adelaide to go get us some firewood."
Chelsea’s phone vibrated on the log next to her, and after reading the message she had received she looked up at Silas with a question in her eyes. "Drake, would you be all right with meeting a friend of mine? She wants to hang out today, and I would love to introduce you to her."
Silas pulled the clean rabbit bone away from his mouth and stared at her unblinking for several seconds. He looked down at Adelaide who was watching the bone hungrily, and he tossed her another piece of meat from the rabbit roasting over the fire. "I don’t know, I have some things to do around camp and …"
"Oh shut up," Chelsea said, "You’re just trying to avoid it because you think I’m going to set you up to meet your brother or something. Well stop it, I said I wouldn’t make you talk to Ian and I won’t! Tara is different; she’s my best friend, and we’ve known each other since we were toddlers. She’s going to start wondering where I’ve been if I don’t give her some of my time."
"Tara?" Silas replied, "You sure her name isn’t Jenny?"
"Yes, I’m sure," Chelsea replied, rolling her eyes. "It would mean a lot to me if you come. Besides, I need a guide to get back to town."
"I thought you said that you’ve been hiking these trails since you learned to walk? Shouldn’t you be able to find your own way out?" Silas said with a smirk.
"Drake, please?" Chelsea pleaded. "She really wants to meet you."
"You’ve told her about me?" Silas said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I would say that borders on being a betrayal of trust right there."
"Not if the time I told her was right after I first met you, you know, back when you told me that you were visiting town with your parents?" Chelsea returned his smirk and stood up from the log, walking over to him to stick her hand out to help him up from his own seat. "Come on. I’ll buy you coffee."
Silas looked at her hand and then rose to his feet without her assistance. "Sold. I could use a cup to get me back some energy for all the work I’m going to have to do when I get back. I’ll meet your friend, but of course Addy has to come as well."
"Duh," Chelsea said, leaning down to scratch Adelaide behind her ears. "Why would I leave without her? She’s pretty much the reason why I still talk to you." She stopped scratching Adelaide and looked her in the eye as she said, "Aren’t you, girl?"
Adelaide barked and Silas shook his head. With a sigh he turned to survey his campsite. "Just let me get a few things cleaned up and then we’ll get out of here."
"I'll help you," Chelsea said cheerfully.
Silas sighed and then began giving Chelsea directions. Before long they had cleaned up the entire campsite and it was all packed away inside of his backpack again. When they were done Chelsea surveyed the camp and then turned to Silas and said, "Wow, you really like to keep everything with you, don't ya?"
"It helps to not lose anything," Silas said with a shrug. "Or if I have to leave an area in a hurry I don't have to worry about going back for anything. It's hard to get the supplies you need sometimes, and it's much better to make sure they're always within arm's reach."
"I suppose that makes sense," Chelsea said with a nod as she walked toward the stream. "Let's go, Tara's going to meet us at the dirt road in an hour."
Silas nodded and followed her lead back toward the town. She had memorized the trail very well, and he only had to give her directions once over their hike back to Crow's Lake. Chelsea hadn't been lying when she said that she had been hiking since she took her first step, and he was pleased to see that he had finally met someone who could keep pace with him. Adelaide trotted along beside Chelsea, clearly taken with her as well. Silas was inclined to let Adelaide continue to develop that friendship for as long as he decided to stay in Crow's Lake. Chelsea seemed like a lonely person, and he could speak from experience about what it felt to have a companion like Adelaide through lonely times. Even though he would eventually leave Chelsea needed a friend while he was still here.
They made little conversation as they hiked. The silence wasn't uncomfortable, but it was telling. Silas watched Chelsea and noticed a difference in her demeanor than had been there before. Chelsea wanted him to meet her friend, but at the same time she didn't. He had yet to ask Chelsea if Tara was a friend from church or otherwise, and he was hoping that she wouldn't be one of the crazy Christians that he had come to know. Only meeting Tara would tell him for certain, but he didn't have to wait long.
As they reached the end of the path Silas had his answer, or at least a pretty good guess of it. A girl approximately his and Chelsea's age was standing thirty yards away. She was tall and slender, and had long black hair that hung halfway down her back. She turned when Chelsea called out to her, and Silas was able to see the streak of bright green in her hair on the other side of her head from his initial vantage point. She smiled and approached them, and Silas took note of her studded belt and spiked collar necklace. Her coat was dark black and had patches of various bands, some of which Silas had heard of and others that he hadn't. She wore heavy boots with small metal buckles that came up to just below her knee, and her red skirt settled a couple inches above the knee, which was just enough to reveal the bottom of a tattoo on the thigh of her left leg. As they neared each other, Silas was able to make out the stud in the left side of her nose, and the multiple piercings in both of her ears. She smiled at them warmly and then hugged Chelsea as soon as she was within arm's reach.
"Tara, this is Drake," Chelsea said, gesturing toward him with her hand. Silas waved and Tara nodded at him.
"Sup, Drake?" Tara said with a grin. "You look like a hobo."
Silas shot Chelsea a dangerous look. "I didn't tell her anything, I swear," Chelsea said, raising her hands defensively. "She just calls it as she sees it."
"Wait, you are a hobo?" Tara asked, "Dude, I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean to be all insensitive like that. Name's Tara, and it's a pleasure to meet you."
Silas laughed and stuck out his hand for her to shake, "No worries. Now that I know Chelsea didn't tell you for no reason, I'm cool. This here is Adelaide," he said, and Adelaide perked up at the sound of her name. She barked as Silas looked down at her and Tara laughed. "She says that she's happy to meet you too."
"Adelaide. That's a cool name. I remember it from somewhere," Tara said as she crouched down and beckoned for Adelaide to come to her. Adelaide waited for Silas to nod that it was okay before she walked forward to meet Tara's outstretched hand. "It's a song or something."
"Anberlin," Silas replied, and Tara looked up at him and smiled. "It's an Anberlin song."
"I knew I was going to like you, Drake! Fuck yes, Anberlin is awesome," Tara said before she looked up and met Chelsea's disapproving look. "Sorry, Chels doesn't like it when I use the 'fuck' word," she continued as she turned back to Silas, "but I'm glad she met another rock fan. She could use more in her life."
Chelsea snorted and Silas laughed. "I'll have to tell you about the band I was traveling with for three weeks. Demons of the Crossroads. They're new, but they're going to be big, I can tell you that for certain."
"You were a roadie?" Tara asked, "That's awesome!"
"Great," Chelsea mumbled as she stepped between them. "Now I have two friends who can't shut up about music. Come on, let's go get coffee so that you can talk all about your rock and roll lifestyles and I can console myself in a white-chocolate mocha."
"Wait, you're gay?" Tara asked loudly, drawing the attention of the other people in the coffee shop. "That's so fucking cool!" She glanced over at Chelsea who shrugged when she added, "I can't believe that Chels didn't tell me that!"
"Well, I made it pretty clear that I didn’t like her spreading my personal business around," Silas said with a glance at Chelsea. "I think she was probably just respecting that and keeping it to herself."
"Yeah, I'm sure that's the case," Tara said, staring at Chelsea for a moment with her eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Yeah, that's definitely it."
An awkward silence settled over the table as Silas looked between Tara and Chelsea, the latter of whom was looking down and avoiding Tara's gaze. Silas shifted uncomfortably in his seat and then cleared his throat as he took Adelaide's leash and laid it on the table. "I need to use the restroom, would you guys mind watching Adelaide for a minute?"
Tara nodded but didn't look up at him. Chelsea was subdued and didn't acknowledge him at all as he stood and walked toward the restroom which his backpack on. He hoped they wouldn't notice and then question why he was wearing his backpack to the restroom, and was glad of the distraction of whatever was going through their minds.
As soon as he was inside of the restroom with its two stalls and two urinals, Silas set his backpack up against the wall and took a long look at himself in the mirror. He had cleaned up in the river the night before, but the water had been cold, and he was looking forward to having warm water to wash up in. He slid out of his coat and dropped it next to his backpack, and then slid his shirt up and over his head, taking a long look at his pale torso as he returned to the mirror. He was glad that he couldn't see his ribs anymore, though they had showed up prominently through most of the winter. Winter was a harsh time for trapping, and it hadn't been kind to his health. Traveling with the band had made things easier, even if the food they ate wasn't the healthiest. It had put some flesh back on his bones.
He stepped back to his backpack and took out two washcloths and a small bottle of dish soap before kicking off his shoes next to his backpack and sliding out of his pants and socks so that he was standing in just his boxers. With washcloths and soap in hand he returned to the sink and filled one of the washcloths with soapy water before he began to scrub at his skin. The warm water relaxed him and let him forget for a moment that he was in the middle of a public restroom to clean himself. He covered every inch of his skin that he could reach, paying careful attention to the space between his toes and behind his ears. He leaned into the sink and squirted some of the soap into his hands before rubbing it into his hair, and then washed his hair as thoroughly as he could before rinsing it in the sink.
Silas made sure that everything he needed was in easy reach as he continued by lowering his boxers and wiping around his genitals. He made sure everything was clean as quickly as he possibly could before using the second washcloth to dry himself off and slide his boxers back up. He began drying the rest of his body off as he let the soapy washcloth rest in the sink with the water running over it to rinse it out.
The door to the restroom opened just as he finished drying off his upper body and had his leg stretched out over the sink to start drying it off as well. Silas looked up and met the eyes of Adam, the cashier from the pet shop, who was staring at Silas with complete surprise. "Um, hi," Silas said with a grin. "Just freshening up."
"Um, yeah," Adam said as he started walking toward one of the urinals. "Um, you know that you probably shouldn't be doing that."
Silas looked at Adam's chest and saw that he was wearing a nametag with the coffee shop's logo on it. "Wait, you work here too? How many jobs do you have?" He continued drying his leg as if Adam had never said anything, and when the first leg was finished he started on the second.
Adam stepped in front of the urinal and unzipped his jeans before glancing over at Silas and saying. "I'm trying to save up for school. The small town life isn't really for me. My family is originally from Denver but we moved out here when I started high school. Are you homeless, Drake?"
"You remember my name, huh?" Silas said as he placed his foot back on the floor and turned back toward his pile of stuff. "What's it to you if I am?"
There was no answer as the sound of Adam urinating filled the room, and Silas shrugged and started dressing, pulling on his socks and then stepping into his pants as the urinal flushed behind him. Adam stepped up to the sinks and Silas could feel his eyes on his back. "If I would have known that, I would have helped you out with that leash and collar."
Silas turned around and met Adam's eyes. "By helping out you mean you would have taken my offer?"
Adam shook his head and smiled. "No, though I admit that you definitely caught me off guard with that one. You're cute but a little young for me. Now that I've seen you nearly naked I can tell you aren't eighteen. There's no way I'd risk that kind of trouble."
"So, you're a good man then," Silas said with a smirk. "I suppose a few of them exist."
"Is that something you've had to do before? I mean …" Adam paused and choked on his words before continuing with a blush, "Give some random dude a blowjob to survive?"
Silas shrugged and replied, "I do what I have to. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to if you're going to survive."
Adam shook his head and turned back to the sink, washing his hands as Silas finished pulling on his pants and sliding back into this shoes. He was reaching for his shirt when Adam started toward the door but then paused and turned back to him. "You know, I could give you a place to stay for a while. My mom's cool, and we've got a couch you can crash on."
"I'm good, Adam," Silas said automatically. "I don't want to think about owing you any favors."
"What's your deal, kid?" Adam asked with a shake of his head. "You don't like taking help from anyone, do you? Come on, at least give me a chance to buy you dinner or something. I feel awful for not helping you out yesterday, now that I know the kind of life you're living."
"I don't need any help," Silas replied smoothly. "But …" he sighed and looked at Adam, "I also can't turn down a free meal. When do you get off of your shift?"
"I'm off at three. We could do dinner any time after that. Like six or seven maybe?" Adam offered.
"I have to get back to where I'm staying before dark," Silas said with a shake of his head. "Five would be optimal."
Adam opened his mouth to reply when there was shouting from outside the restroom. "Excuse me, we'll talk more once you're done dressing. Take all the time you need," he said with a weak smile before leaving the restroom. As the door opened Silas recognized the sound of Chelsea and Tara's voices as they shouted with another woman, and Adelaide was barking furiously. He hurried and finished putting on his shirt and coat before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and venturing back into the coffee shop.
By the time he arrived on the scene Chelsea was nowhere to be seen, and Tara was outside, talking furiously into her cell phone. A cop car drove out of the parking lot as Tara watched it with murderous eyes. Silas turned back to see Adam holding onto Adelaide's leash as he shrugged back at him.
"What the hell was that all about?" Silas asked as he walked over and took the leash back from Adam. "Where did my friend go?"
"When I came out she was being dragged out of here by that cop, Officer Higgins I believe. The one your friend was talking about when you were in the pet shop," Adam explained. "The other girl was shouting at the officer to leave them alone, but the officer wouldn't listen."
"What the fuck?" Silas asked. "Well, I'll try to figure out what happened. Five should be good for me. Will you meet me on the corner of Fifth and Main?"
"Yeah, sounds good. I'd love to hear what happened if you get more information," Adam said with a bewildered expression. "I don't like it when things like that happen in my work and I'm left without an explanation."
"Will do," Silas replied as he pulled Adelaide toward the door. He turned back as Adam started walking toward the counter and said, "And Adam?"
"Yeah?" Adam asked as he turned around and smiled.
"Thanks for helping me out," Silas said warmly. "I don't think I tell people that often enough. It's about time I started again."
Adam nodded and Silas turned toward the door and stepped outside to join Tara who had just put her phone away. "What happened?" Silas asked as she turned to look up at him.
"Big bitchy bigots happened!" Tara snapped. "I can't believe the fucking nerve of that woman! Just because she caught us …" she trailed off and looked back at Silas and thought better of continuing her thought. "I'm sorry, Drake, but I need to go take care of a few things. I have to see if I can help Chelsea."
"Can I do anything?" Silas asked with concern.
"No offense, Drake," Tara replied, "But I think you've got enough on your plate to worry about. We'll figure this out, and Chelsea knows where to find you, right?"
"Yeah," Silas replied with a nod. "I'll do whatever I can if you guys need it."
"Thanks," Tara said, smiling weakly. "We might just have to take you up on that."
Author's Note: What did Officer Higgins catch Tara and Chelsea doing? Is Chelsea going to be all right? What will happen with Adam and Silas?
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