Stretching overhead, Jake pulls on his left wrist and then his right. His v-neck t-shirt lifts above the waistband of his Levi’s 511s, exposing a light layer of post-college athlete chub that will recede with ease, as soon as his diet is comprised of anything other than cheap beer, fast food, and Costco-sized bags of trail mix.
“We made it, guys! Mount Riggidy Rushmore!”
“This is the parking lot, Jake,” Tom mutters.
Several cowboy steps ahead of the others, it’s unclear if Jake heard Tom’s repudiation, or just chose to ignore it. He inhales deeply, enjoying the evergreen-tinged air and sparkling Dakotan skies. By the time he finishes an exaggerated swig from his Hydro Flask, they have caught up.
Tom, huffing a little, is perturbed by Jake’s abundant enthusiasm. “Why do you always hafta walk so fast?”
“I walk how I walk, bro.”
Kass removes one headphone from his ear to hear that Jake and Tom are still bickering; replaces AirPod to soundtrack the bluebird day with JDilla instrumentals.
“I’m sick of trying to keep up with you.”
“Is this about how I walk or varsity baseball?”
A dark cloud rolls past the sun, making the exchange particularly ominous.
Where did that cloud even come from? Kass wonders. Did it blow in or did it just form out of thin air? Is it a cumulus or a cirrus? Mental Siri, remind me to look up—
“KASS!” voices shout in unison. Agreement, finally.
“Are you ready or are you just going to stare at literally nothing all afternoon?”
Kass looks again skyward, only to see boundless, unobstructed blue in all directions. Was that cloud even real? Or just a manifestation of my burgeoning anxiety from being cooped in a car with these two squabbling meatheads for the past 19 20 21 days?
“Yeah, let’s hit it.”
Jake, excitedly: “When my dad did this road trip with his two best friends–
Tom closes his eyes to stifle an eye roll.
“They blocked their view of the mountain until they were right up close. He said it was magnificent, absolutely a must-do.” Jake raises an enormous paw to his Neanderthal forehead, shielding his eyes from the chiseled mountain. Kass obliges too, interlacing two fine-boned hands together. Soft hands. The hands of an artist.
Be more sentimental, Jake, you tool. My dad this, my dad that… maybe if you developed any interests or opinions outside of the ones your dad Manchurian Candidated into your thick skull, you would be more gratified. You’re never going to be him, therefore you’ll never fulfill the life plan he’s engineered for you—
“You coming, man?” Kass’s even voice is like a CB radio, interrupting Tom’s spiraling thoughts with an emergency breakthrough.
“Oh. Yeah.” Tom cocks his head to the left, catching the eye of his oldest, most loyal friend. Jake looks at him expectantly; brimming with hope.
He’s such a fcking Labradoodle, Tom laughs to himself, and all the tension between the lifelong friends melts away like ice cream, banana lickety split.
Tom thumps his fist once to his heart, then spreads it wide as he brings it up to his face, obscuring the distant view. He can hear Jake’s face beaming down the lane.
◈ ◈ ◈ ◈ ◈
21 days is too many for a road trip. Even so, some friendships are carved in granite. Made to last forever.