It felt like every bump in the gravel on the way out of Trellis’ driveway telegraphed itself directly into the seats of Flake’s little runabout, the sounds of creaking plastic and shuddering frame filling the cabin.
“Just a little farther,” Flake muttered.
“It’s my driveway! I know how far it is,” Trellis replied.
“That was more for the car than for you,” the jay crowed, clearing the final pothole and emerging onto the forest service access road leading to the freeway. “Good lord! When are you gonna pave that thing?”
Silence from the passenger’s seat. Trellis was gazing back at his home, furrowing his brow and narrowing his eyes to see its lights through the thick haze of the morning fog. “Why would I pave a driveway I barely ever use?” he muttered.
“Oh, come on now, soursticks. You go to the nursery like twice a week. Besides, that little truck of yours has gotta be about thirty years old by now! You’re gonna shake that thing apart. You can’t just neglect your access road, y’know.”
More silence. Not a word. Their friend’s focus was clearly elsewhere, and attempting to jar it loose would take more than snide commentary about property upkeep.
Moments passed as quickly as the roadway signs and turn-outs. Flake thumbed the radio presets, not really to listen as much as to fidget. The deer slouched against the window, watching the sun cut knives through the mist in the trees.
He sighed. The mood in the cabin changed. The bird flinched at the noise, unexpected.
“You miss him, don’t you,” Trellis asked, quietly.
Flake stiffened, sat taller in the seat, and the vehicle swerved slightly when their grip on the wheel tightened with the motion. The seat belt’s limiter ratcheted. “I don’t want to talk about this. Not with you, Trel.”
“We’re going to have to, you know.”
“It’s been six years.”
“You know he still calls, right? He’s been asking about you. Wants to get together with the two of us for dinner.”
Slowing to a stop at an intersection, the steller’s jay palmed the right hand blinker and checked their corners. They sighed, touching their forehead to the wheel as another vehicle blasted through the stop sign in the opposite direction. “Trellis. He wanted to tear ass around the country, see the sights. I wanted to stay right where I was. It was an addiction. Marder was never going to be a good fit. I don’t miss him any more than I miss smoking.” They raised their head, turned to look at the deer, only saw silver mane furtively shifting towards the passenger window. Flake frowned. “Can we please change the subj–”
“Fine, fine. Sorry to bring it up,” Trellis replied, cracking the window. “I just…I wonder. I wonder what things would be like if you and I–”
“Never would have happened,” Flake interrupted.
“It almost did.”
“It didn’t almost did. We fooled around. We knew better. You, you, you and I were never…Trel, we were never that way.”
The blinker shut off as the runabout rounded the corner, swinging on to the exit ramp in the dawn’s early light, the sun starting to burn the fog off the freeway. The drive was mostly silent, save for the static crackling over the light jazz and occasional chatter on the radio. Trellis was focused on the trees as they flashed past the window, taking little notes in his journal, doing little sketches of the evergreens and the leafy trees giving up their protective garnishing in anticipation of the coming snow.
Flake, of course, was focused on the road. But they allowed themselves a stolen glance at their lifelong friend, college roommate, confidante, aloe source, sometimes rescuer of the wayward houseplant here or there.
And the jay smiled.
We probably could have been that way, though, Flake thought to themselves. Maybe. Just not then, and not there. The love Flake felt was more friendly than fiery, but it was there all the same. Trellis had to know that, somehow, the jay figured.
“Coffee sound good?” Flake asked. “Then the farmer’s market?”
“Coffee sounds great,” Trellis replied, wistful.