Garrett whines so damn much in this novel. Ugh.
They left the hospital together the next day around noon. The doctor wasn’t thrilled, but Brianna was feeling better, if not necessarily happier. Garrett walked just behind her out of the hospital. She slowed to try to catch his hand in hers, but his fingers didn’t play with hers the way they usually did. He looked away and muttered something about not wanting to seem too needy. Her heart broke again but she didn’t let go.
Their first stop was a large city park along the Fraser, the same river they’d been boating down a couple of days prior. Together they walked mostly silently, swatting at hordes of mosquitos and watching children shout and play along the well-kept walking path. A couple of families were barbequing, and a lone dog ran wide circles around a grove of white-barked aspens.
The trail was long, and Garrett worried Brianna was still not up for it, so after a half mile, he turned around. She caught his arm and he stopped, not daring to look at her. “Do you want to go home?” She asked the question sternly, not like her meek behavior at all from the last day.
Still, he didn’t look back. “Do you?”
“Please don’t turn this around on me. I hurt you. If what you want is home, let’s go.”
“No. I don’t.”
“Good. Me neither. Come on.”
She started down the trail back towards the Durango, and Garrett strode after her. “Where are we going?”
“To the Ancient Forest, husband of mine.”
“Brianna, I don’t-”
She turned and walked backwards. Her smile was forced, but her eyes really did glitter either with tears or good humor. “Want to go? Of course you do. Maybe not now, but we’re here. We might not ever have the opportunity again. C’mon. Thousand-year old trees. Inland rainforest type… stuff. Gorgeous walking paths. C’mon c’mon c’mon.”
“Oh, is that enthusiasm I hear, Mr. Moranis? Is that a note of holy shit, we get to see more cool crap? Why, I believe it is.”
She stopped, quavering. “Garrett, I’m sorry. If you want, we can be mopey and I’ll spend every minute trying to apologize to you. But I swear, what I said wasn’t what I meant. Believe me or don’t believe me. I know how badly I hurt you. But-”
He caught her wrists, lifted them, and kissed her palms. “Brianna, would you go with me to the Ancient Forest?”
“Ohhh, I suppose.”
* * *
The cedars dwarfed them, but it wasn’t just the size that humbled them, but the idea that these organisms had lived fifteen times over what they would see in their lifetime. They were an ancient testament to a world gone by, one that man now shaped and dominated. The old guard, locked in a rainforest in the midst of western Canada.
It was very hard for Garrett to be upset after that.
* * *
They hauled the last of what remained in the backseat into their hotel room, Garrett grinning slyly to himself. Brianna was mystified, but played along as to why they needed so much room in the SUV.
“You’ll like it, I promise,” he told her. “Well, I think you will, anyways.”
He blindfolded her before they drove around Prince George. It was to be their last night there – the city was nice enough, but they were anxious for Vancouver, one of their last major stops before they swung back towards Waterton for a last bit of camping before heading back down through the border the same way they came in.
His heart still felt like it had been carved open, but this was still the woman he loved, and he would try to make sure she had as good of a time as she could despite the pain between them. He’d even taken the time to make them a playlist, carefully getting her advice so he didn’t accidentally wipe out the one she’d made for him to listen to before their wedding. It was all bad themes from eighties and nineties movies, and she was left guessing as he drove about half an hour from their hotel.
“Okay, is it… an actor signing or something? Like a David Hasselhoff meet and greet?”
A block later. “Is it a movie marathon?”
“Closer. Much closer.”
“Oooh. I like this. You, me, a dark theater. Why, hello, Mr. Hole in the Bottom of the Popcorn.”
He laughed. “That’s gonna spoil popcorn for me forever.”
“Say that now, but wait till I get to the bottom of the bag.”
“All right, we’re almost there. No peeking.”
“Fine.” She folded her arms over her breasts, pouting as Garrett made a corner.
The window on the driver’s side came down, blasting them both with the night’s still-roasting air. “Evening,” a stranger said.
“Evening,” Garrett replied. “Two for Valerian.”
“Twenty-five bucks gets you both movies.”
The sound of paper wrinkling and being handed over. “Keep the tip.”
“Hey, thanks, buddy!”
To Brianna, Garrett said, “Okay. Now look.”
She lifted her bandanna, and laughed. “A drive-in!”
It was the first one either one of them had been to in their lifetime. The Park Drive-In was already filling up, and Garrett was glad they’d come early. Nestled in the woods around Prince George, it was a beautiful little spot that reminded him of a sandlot baseball pitch, of all things. He liked it, and judging from Brianna’s wiggling and bouncing in her seat, she approved too.
There was only one downside, and he groaned when he saw the signage. “Oh man, if I’d known there was go-karts and mini-golf, we would’ve never left this place.”
Brianna laughed, unbuckled her seatbelt, and leaned over to kiss him. She gave a certain part of him a little squeeze. “You do realize we’re probably getting kicked out of here later, right?”
“But you told me you really want to see this.”
“Trust me. Not as much as I want to do… this.”
“Hm. They have a concessions stand.”
Glancing around, she unzipped him. “Yeah?”
He groaned. “With poutine. And poutine baked potatoes, whatever that means.”
Slowly, regretfully, her hand withdrew and she leaned back in her seat. “We could always eat first and fool around later, right?”
“Now that’s the woman I love.”
* * *
They bid the city farewell early the next morning. The plan was to make the eight or nine hour drive to Vancouver in two legs, but they weren’t yet sure where they wanted to stop along the way.
On their way out of town, Brianna asked if they couldn’t stop at a little cafe called Ohh Chocolat. As she nibbled on the end of a piece of chocolate-coated bacon while carving up her loaded omelet, Garrett got a call. “The hospital?” he asked Brianna and she shrugged. Smiling apologetically to the other customers, he got up and took the call as he made his way outside.
“Mr. Moranis?” the voice on the other end asked. He recognized the voice – the ER doctor that had treated Brianna.
“Yes?” He tried to come up with her name and failed. Murphy would have remembered.
“It’s Dr. Dennings. I’m sorry, but are you busy at the moment?”
“Just sitting down to have breakfast with my wife. Is everything okay?”
“I wanted to speak to you specifically about Mrs. Moranis’s case. I hope you don’t mind.”
Panic rose in his chest. “Is everything okay? Did her labs…? What’s the matter?”
“It’s all right, Mr. Moranis, your wife is all right. But she said something when she came in, about having no control over blurting some awful things about you.”
Damn it, no one was going to let that wound scab over, were they? “Yeah. What about it? Look, if you think I was abusive, I promise-”
“No, no. We, um, had an odd case last night. And I don’t know if you’ve been catching up with the news on your trip, but there’s been an illness. A few individual cases like your wife’s. We didn’t recognize it right away because the symptoms were mild in comparison.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, and leaned against a light pole. “Dehydration? Heat stroke?” Of course there were going to be cases like that across the summer. What the hell was this about?
There was a long pause. “Mr. Moranis, I need you to listen – your wife, as far as we can tell, is fine. You need to understand that before what I say next.”
Garrett glanced back at the diner, his heartrate a freight train trying to go off the rails. “What is it?”
“These cases all have similar symptoms. Extreme signs of heat exhaustion. Catastrophic heart failure. In every case except your wife’s, it’s led to the patient’s death.”
“What are you saying?” he croaked. The world suddenly seemed to be going off-kilter.
“Remember, your wife is fine. We think.”
“I’m sorry I can’t give you more comfort than that. Mr. Moranis, we can’t explain this. Medically, it’s as strange as anything I’ve ever seen or heard of. In the cases where someone was nearby and could overhear, each person was last heard saying… well, horrible things. Grotesque things.”
Garrett’s runaway heartrate slowed to an unsteady beat. “Guilt. Anger.”
“You did hear it. Confessions, almost.”
“Y-yeah. Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up.”
I hate you sometimes. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.
“Mr. Moranis, besides letting you know what to look for, there’s something else you should hear. In all the cases, everything the affected said seemed to be…” Dr. Dennings blew out a breath. “This is… personal. I’m breaking some confidentiality policies here, and…”
“The patient last night. Before he died, he told his wife some things. She says she knew some of the worst of it – that he’d been having an affair, but it wasn’t what he said so much as how he said it. She said he was never a vicious man, but he seemed to be trying to… to deliberately hurt her at the end.”
Brianna, trying to tell him her words had been twisted. Garrett hadn’t believed her, not really. He let out a choked gasp of air, and said, “The things were true, but… poisoned, almost?”
“Yes… yes, that’s about what she said. And I did some digging this morning. In every case like this one, where someone overheard a confession of sorts, it was all poisoned, like you say. Mr. Moranis, I saw the way you and your wife were avoiding each other. Anyone could tell you’d just had a fight. I guess that’s the real reason I’m calling you. Whatever she said, whatever pain she brought to you… I don’t know that I have the right to tell you how to run your relationship, but I guess I thought this might be something you needed to hear.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I think I need to go. Thank you, Doctor.”
But he was hanging up already, and taking unsteady steps towards the diner. Behind him, coming out of the wall of a nearby shop was the ghostly child. He didn’t notice her even as she walked along beside him, idly glancing now and then at him and the sun.
In the café, Brianna was peering through the display at a row of fine chocolates and desserts. She stood upright when she saw him come in. “Had them get a box for your food. Is everything-?” Ignoring everyone around them, he walked to her, placed a hand at the small of her back, and bent her nearly backwards giving her a long, sweet kiss, her long hair nearly brushing the floor. When he helped her back upright, she was giggling, but he couldn’t smile. “I’m sorry I doubted you,” he said