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[Ongoing story of two brothers. Merrill here who’s only goal is to stay clean and sober. He’s got a new friend who he hasn’t told about being in rehab, etc.]

Everything about the hike started the same as our first time. Shea showed up early. I ran around stressed out trying to get the sandwiches made and all the stuff crammed into my pack. Out the door, down the stairs, into her car. Just like the first time. And this time I notice the smell right away, instead of later. All the windows are down, but there’s no hiding the smell of pot.

She’s as sunny as ever driving us away from the city and I love sitting next to her in the smallness of the car. I remember our kisses. My stomach’s a mess thinking about having more of them. We get a long time to talk as the trail is further from town today. A lot further.

Finally we bump down a long red road until she says we’ve found out spot. “Got the water?”

“Yep, and everything else.” I hope she likes my sandwiches. Basics like making sandwiches are new to me and I’m prouder than I should be, according to James. But who has a brother who doesn’t give you shit.

We walk, and I still haven’t told her about me. Merrill, each step you take gets you deeper in. She doesn’t wonder why I live the way I do. My group, she doesn’t question that I have a one. She calls it a therapy group when I tell her I’m busy. Therapy group isn’t the whole story I should tell her. The sun rises, we walk, we laugh, we touch, and finally she says we have just little way to go to the oasis and lunch.

Out of nowhere she finds us palm trees for shade and water gushing from the earth. I have no idea how this is possible. She explains the desert, being from here.

We sit on a flat rock, close and touching. I grab my pack and am extracting our lunch, bending toward her, not noticing, when she reaches her face forward and kisses me. Lips. She finds my lips. Everything stops. Lunch, chatter, sound of the water. We kiss, long and wet and I’m going crazy. I love this girl. I’m lost in love. I’m crazy and falling in love with Shea.

We stop and look at each other. She giggles like music and says, “Whew.”

“Whew. I think we should get on with lunch.”

She laughs. “Merrill, you’re so funny. Lunch. So serious.”

She watches me unwrap the sammies, take out cut up carrots (more laughter), and open a bag of pretzels. Her warm hand reaches across my buffet and squeezes my hand almost to hurting. “You’re amazing. Not like anyone I’ve ever know.”

Yes, and you don’t know me. You still don’t know me and with all the kisses, you’re gonna know me better, and still I haven’t said a word.

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