Dad let me borrow his F-150 cherry red Ford truck for our trip to Yuba River. I didn’t have a proper car (a Prius was no truck), and I was still fucked up from a breakup that I saw, day after day, was all my fault. My mind was far colder and more manipulative than my own heart. Dad wasn’t known for his emotional condolences (I would have denied them), so his truck was the perfect remedy. Anyways, he was no stranger to heartbreak.
There were five of us, one man (me) and four women. We’d known each other since high school, gotten drunk in each other’s backyards, and stoned in our old playgrounds. As all bonds of youth unfortunately flow, they were fading. I sensed it in the way we said hello, almost as if we were tired like we had done this too many times before. That fact only half concerned me. What I knew for sure was that I was in love with one of them and needed to keep my mouth shut.
The Yuba is about two and half hours up the 80 and then the 5 from San Francisco. As I drove, they discussed being ghosted and what a “real man” was, an extra-large bag of Sour Cream and Onion Ruffles between them. We stopped and started with the traffic as humid air mingled with the AC. I made sure to keep my hands at ten and two when the one I loved asked me how I was doing. She always meant everything she said, which made it even harder when I replied, oh,fine.
The hike reminded me of my age. My breath was short, but when my heart took over, the fog weaving through the pines sharpened. I realized that I was in a new place, with older friends, far and away from every definition of myself since before.
For the next three days, we ate mushrooms and talked about the intricacy of moss. They prepared refried beans as I collected firewood. It rained one night, and I was blamed for not bringing a tarp (it was my fault). When the storm cleared, they swam naked in the lazy river as I wrote about Sirens; about how women will always be better than men.
Then, we drove home. After I dropped everyone else off, I told the one I loved that I loved her. I had to say it.
“No, you don’t.” She said it with the care I was convinced would cure me. “You need time to come back to yourself.”
She offered me a shy, conciliatory smile and got out. Back home, I texted some embarrassing kind of “thank you for your truth” sentiment while my grandma heated me some enchiladas in her slipper, moo-moo combo. One of her many dogs hovered. She tossed them one and flicked red sauce at them.
“They like the salty,” Grandma explained. “So boy, how was your trip?”
Mitchell Duran is a writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He has been published in Free Flash Fiction, Black Horse Review, Drunk Monkey, The Millions, BrokeAssStuart, and more. He lives in San Francisco, California. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com.