Sam Holstein

There All Along

1. Chris

Chris sighed and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. It was going to take forever for him to get home.

Rush hour crammed the highway. Despite being a Tuesday like any other, rush hour kept the cars backed up for miles. Traffic hadn’t quite come to a stop, creeping along at five miles an hour.

Because of this, Chris wasn’t paying very close attention to his driving.

His phone dinged. Without thinking, Chris picked up his phone and swiped the notification. Facebook snapped into view. Up popped a picture of Mark, standing in a tasteful sports bar, arms around his buddies. Chris swiped at the next photo and the next. Buddies Chris thought were his buddies too.

Chris’s heart fell. He thought Mark said that next time they go out, they’d invite him too.

It’s not as if Mark or those guys were his best friends; they were just people he worked with. Missing out on their company wasn’t what put him off; it was the thought of missing out at all.

He stared at the photos, imagining them occupying the corner booth. Everyone ordered the same burger, but they were all sitting there forgotten because Darnold was streaking down the field.

Chris looked up from his phone to see the car in front of him was far too close.

Chris slammed on the brakes, the car jolting to a stop mere inches from the car in front of him. The car behind him did the same, and the car after that, each slamming their car horn in turn.

Chris swore. He put his phone down face down in the center console. This was why he shouldn’t look at his phone while he drove, even in the middle of a traffic jam.

2. Ramona

At the house, Ramona sat at the kitchen table with her laptop out. On her way home from work, she’d gotten a call from one of her clients, which of course turned into more work. So, before she even got a chance to enjoy being home, she had to pull out her laptop and squeeze in a little more work.

She was finishing up the last of it when she heard the door creak open.

“Hey hon,” she called across their small apartment.

“Hey.” He immediately collapsed on the couch, not even bothering to take his shoes off.

“Work that good, huh?” she asked.

He shrugged, pulling out his phone. “Rush hour was crazy today. I almost got in a wreck, even though we were only moving five miles an hour.”

Ramona eyed the phone in his hands. Her chest twisted. She was afraid that one of these days, he would get in one. “You shouldn’t be looking at your phone while driving.”

Chris looked up at her and raised his eyebrows. “Who says that’s why?”

Mona smirked at him.

Chris sighed. “Traffic was crawling.”

“You shouldn’t be looking at your phone so much, at all,” Mona said. “And you know that.”
Chris gave no notice that she spoke. After her scolding him for it so many times, Chris had stopped bothering to react.

“Well, I’m glad you’re home safe,” she continued.

She sat down beside him, putting her hand on his and pushing his phone down. “I have been waiting to ask you… Do you want to have a romantic dinner tonight?”

Chris looked at her, blinking. “What?”

“You know, a nice dinner. With the nice table settings, and a real homecooked meal with no high fructose corn syrup. It’s been a while since I’ve cooked anything. It’ll be fun. And it’ll be even more fun afterward…” She winked.

“Oh. Yeah, sure honey .”

Mona had been hoping for something a little more enthusiastic. She sighed and put it out of her mind.

3. Chris

The spreadsheets on the computer screen stared Chris down. It was as if the inert data could sense his weakness.

He blinked at his computer screen, the spreadsheet not looking any less challenging. The longer he blinked, the worse it looked. In Chris versus the spreadsheet, Chris lost.

It wasn’t a matter of fatigue. Chris had gotten his usual amount of sleep last night, eaten his breakfast, and came in to work like usual. It wasn’t even that he disliked his job. It was that there was something else drawing his attention. And that thing was Instagram.

It was that time of year when the water was warm, the trees were a lush shade of green, and everyone took road trips to national parks. Everyone but him. His feed was a stream of beautiful landscapes, complete with perfect blue waters and people wearing Patagonia jackets.

Chris’s eyes crawled from the lush green forestry to the gray of his cubicle. Not a lot of employers in San Fransisco still held with boxy cubicles, but the old consulting company he worked for was one of them. Chris never minded his cubicle. Except, of course, when he was staring at a picture of the Redwood National and State Parks system.

It wasn’t the only gorgeous picture, either. Below that, there was a photo of the Redwood forests. Below that, a photo of Mount Hood. Below that, a photo of Zion National Park.

Chris stared at the beautiful landscapes, and then at his gray cubicle, and sighed.

Chris didn’t follow all these Instagram accounts so he could feel bad. When he and Mona wanted to move out West, he followed all these people for motivation. He and Mona were going to get to the West and see what it had to offer. They’d sat in their apartment in Indiana and dreamed of visiting the Grand Canyon. They’d looked at pictures and flight prices with each other, but never quite found the time or money.

But it had been a year since they moved, and they hadn’t seen any of these attractions. They hadn’t so much as spent a weekend at the beach.

In the first two or three months, it was justifiable. Moving across the country was a lot of work. All their things needed sold, shipped, bought again, and settled in. But as the months turned to six, to eight, to twelve, those excuses melted away.

Even in San Francisco, at the center of the tech world, in the middle of one of the most beautiful regions of the world, Chris felt empty. He knew people who spent their weekends climbing mountains. Chris couldn’t even muster the will to hit the gym. Friends organized dates and parties with their friends. Chris was lucky if he managed to go out even one night a week.

The fact of the matter was that these things didn’t happen for Chris the way they did for others. He went to work, then home, then to bed, and from there life passed him by. People never invited him to spend a weekend jet-skiing or backpacking. He wasn’t even invited to watch the game with someone at a bar. He would have loved to, but those aren’t the kinds of things you can just decide to do yourself.

He tabbed away from Instagram and back to his spreadsheet before his boss could catch him.

4. Ramona

The night of the dinner, Chris wandered in the door from work the same way he did every other day, collapsing onto the couch and pulling out his phone without even taking his shoes off.

Mona’s heart fell.

She kept on cooking, wondering how long it would take him to notice.

Chris finally looked up several minutes later. He saw the kitchen (covered with ingredients from her cooking) and stopped dead. “Hey Mona, what are you doing?” he asked.

She felt like she’d been kicked in the chest.

She watched his face morph from confusion to shock. “The romantic dinner, right?” He stumbled, trying to cover his tracks.

“Right,” Mona huffed. Her first impulse was to snap, was to say Jesus, Chris, do you even give a shit about your own life? Do you give a shit about anything other than what the cool kids are doing?

But when she opened her mouth to speak, the words felt pointless. She’d argued with Chris about this a thousand times, and in that thousand times she learned that the only thing arguing with him would achieve was to make the evening worse. It certainly wouldn’t inspire lasting change.

The anger drained out of her, replaced by hopelessness.

Mona believed in the power of optimism, so she tried to come up with something positive about the situation.

The best thing she could think of was that he at least remembered it at all.

“Sure.” Chris swallowed. “When is it going to be ready?”

That was Chris. He could talk a big game about wanting to do this or that. But when an opportunity presented itself, Chris hung back and waited for someone else to do the legwork.

“In about an hour.”

The hour crawled, at least for Mona.

Mona prepared ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a cobbler mix – a little Christmas dinner. It may be the middle of summer, but she knew how much Chris loved Christmas dinner, no matter what time of the year it was.

The prospect of finally spending some quality time with Chris warmed her, even if he did forget. The only time they spend together these days was when they happened to be in the apartment at the same time. Between Mona’s job at a startup and her new backpacking club, she didn’t see much of Chris anymore.

Not for lack of trying.

“I’m glad we get to do this,” she said. “I know we’ve both been focusing on work. It’s been ages since we spent time with each other.”

They only had one old set of table settings, thanks to sky- high San Francisco prices. She dressed them up as best she could. She set the silverware in their proper spots, put all the condiments on the table, and lit a candle in the center.

Finally, Mona set the last plate on the table. She’d bought the best ham she could get her hands on, honeyed and glazed in the center of the table. The mashed potatoes were steaming. She knew Chris would be quick to drown them in the gravy she’d placed right next to it. She even made steamed green beans, the foodie culture in SF having turned her on to healthy eating. And after cooking for hours, Mona was quite looking forward to them.

Chris stood by his chair. He hadn’t taken a seat yet.

“Just let me check this real quick,” he said, poking around his phone.

Two desires tore at Mona. The mature desire to let it go, and the immature impulse to snap at him Put your phone away!

“All right,” he said, setting his phone face down on the table. “This looks amazing, Mona.”

“Thank you, honey,” she said. “Dig in!”

Despite her enthusiastic invitation, dinner was quiet. Chris’s eyes kept flickering back to his phone. His hands skittered across the table, swiping back and forth on the glass screen like a reflex. If Mona had to guess, she would guess that Chris wasn’t even aware he was doing it.

Mona resisted the impulse to grab his phone, put it in her pocket, and tell him he couldn’t have it back until after dinner.

She felt a sudden kinship with parents whose kids are always on their phones.

But Chris wasn’t a child, and Mona wasn’t his mom. If Chris couldn’t control himself, then there was nothing Mona could do about it.

This was why the two of them didn’t do nice things together.

It’s not as if Mona didn’t want to do things with Chris. For her part, Mona did lots of things. They had moved to the bay area to travel, to spend time at the beach, to ‘live life to the fullest’ and all that.

But when they did move here, Chris didn’t actually do that. And that was like Chris, wasn’t it? To talk a big game, but do nothing.

When they decided to move, Chris wouldn’t leave his job. They waited six months for his current company to process a transfer to San Francisco. Mona was the one who had to quit her old job and risk her entire career by moving.

And that risk paid off. Mona got a job at a local startup, a challenging position that she loved. They paid less than an established company, but Mona didn’t care. The challenge made her come alive.

And before she knew it, she wasn’t trying new things only at work. She signed up for a backpacking trip, and another, and then another. The friends she’d made there invited her skiing, and so she found herself putting on skis for the first time in her life.

And when she came alive, Chris didn’t join her.

Their big dream was to visit the Grand Canyon together. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d looked at flight prices and hotel costs. But she’d begun to think that, maybe, it wasn’t their dream at all. It was only hers.

Mona had tried to plan things for them to do, things like skiing and backpacking. But when she did, either Chris found a reason he couldn’t go, or, more often, he would go without going. His body attended with her, but his attention was somewhere else.

Chris poked at a photo of someone at Yosemite. Like now.

She dropped her fork on her plate. Her heart crumbled in her chest, like it would have if he hadn’t shown up at all… because he didn’t.

She swallowed. It wouldn’t do either of them any good for her to sit at the table and wallow this way. If the night was going to be bad, it was going to be bad, but she wasn’t going to help it along.

She attempted conversation. “How’s work? I know that project with JHQ has been giving you guys a rough time.”

His eyes flitted up to her, and then back down. “It’s been a mess, as usual.”

The words what are you looking at leaped into her mind, but she swallowed them down. She didn’t want to sound like a bitch. And anyway, she could see what he was doing clear as day.

Perhaps she would have felt pacified if he was answering work emails, but he wasn’t.

She looked back at the kitchen island, where her phone sat out of reach. It was just as well. She didn’t want to encourage the behavior.

What she wanted was to be spending quality time with her husband.

Soon enough, they both finished eating.

Chris put his fork down. “That was delicious, Mona.”

For a moment, Ramona’s chest swelled with warmth, her heart a hot air balloon.

She watched him get up, put his plate in the sink, and then walk into his office and shut the door without a word. Her balloon deflated and fell back to earth.

No fun afterward for either of them, then.

5. Chris

Chris sat in the chair in his home office, staring at his desktop image. For the life of him, Chris couldn’t figure out why Mona was down in the dumps.

He didn’t think he was a Luddite husband. He paid attention to her, asked her how her day was, went on dates with her, all the things husbands do. They just had their romantic dinner, so Mona should be feeling happier. Right?

If Chris didn’t know better, he’d say that their dinner upset her.

But Chris did know better. He knew that it wasn’t necessarily dinner that upset her, even if that’s when he noticed it. Maybe something happened at work. Like her boss rewarding that guy she works with and not her (despite her being the better designer). Or some catty bitch playing office politics. Hell, maybe she got into a fight with those outdoors friends of hers.

He looked up her Facebook to see if anything leaped out at him. If she’d fought with a friend, their digital footprint would show it.

But there was nothing to show. The last time Mona had posted anything on Facebook was four weeks ago. It was a link to a study which said over half of the deaths in America are due to lifestyle choices.

He pulled up her Instagram, but it was even less informative. Her last photo was a photo of their new apartment, taken several months ago.

Chris stared at his monitor as if doing so would cause things to make more sense.

He knew she had a MacBook. With her new job, it sometimes seemed like she was on the computer more than him. He couldn’t reconcile that with this digital desert.

A braver man would have gotten up and asked her point blank what was wrong, but Chris was not a braver man.

With Mona, things that upset her usually went away on their own. There was no point dragging something up and upsetting the both of them when it would go away on its own anyway.

Whatever the story with Mona, Chris was glad they had dinner together. He was delighted to spend the time with her and just her.

He was so impressed with his wife. Mona could cause things to happen as if it were fated to happen that way. She’d always been like that. It was one of the things Chris loved about her, although he didn’t understand how she did it. Sometimes, Chris felt that it was as if good things happened to her more often than they did other people. Even when good things happened to Chris, they weren’t the same. They felt emptier for Chris than they seemed to for Mona.

It wasn’t only Mona who had this power, though. Plenty of people seemed to have it. Those people on Instagram, for instance. They seemed to have an ability to attract good things to themselves effortlessly.

Chris thought of Mona and hoped that tomorrow, whatever was hurting her wouldn’t be anymore.

6. Ramona

Tomorrow, what was hurting Ramona was still hurting her. And the next day, and the next, and so on.

It hurt her for long enough that she decided to text Sasha about it. Then Sasha had a free lunch appointment, which is how the two of them ended up at a Starbucks in the middle of a weekday.

“…it’s still bothering me,” Mona finished. “It feels so stupid, to let this bother me for an entire week.”

“It doesn’t sound stupid,” Sasha said.

“It isn’t stupid,” Mona insisted. “Not really. I just feel like it is. It’s not just about him ignoring me one night, you know? That would be a jerk move, sure, but it’s not just that.”

Mona looked at the wall. “This isn’t the only time he’s done this. Far from it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to organize stuff together, and he just…”

“Are you sure he isn’t just distracted?” Sasha said. “You know how men can sometimes be. He might have something going on at work.”

Mona stared into her latte. Her despondence drove her to order a coffee that had far too much cream, but she couldn’t be bothered to care.

“No, it’s been… it’s been going on a while. Before we got married, we went on vacations all the time. We lived in Indiana, so we were always going to New York City or Toronto or the Smoky Mountains. But since we got married, he got less and less excited. It started to feel like I was dragging him places. So I stopped. That’s why we moved out here,” Mona pointed out the window. “There’s only so much to do in the east. We decided to move out here so we could visit Mount Hood or Zion or Yosemite or the ten zillion other parks here. We both thought once we got here, things would be different.”

“They are different, as far as I can tell,” Sasha said. “At least for you. After all, you did join our club.”

Mona smiled thinly. “Yeah. And don’t get me wrong, I love you guys. But I wish I could convince my husband to do these things with me too.”

Mona swallowed. Her heart ached. She wanted her husband back.

She sighed. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve been married long enough to know nagging and arguing isn’t going to change anything.” She put her head in her hands. “I don’t know what to do.”

Sasha leaned forward. “I’m supposed to say that nothing can make him change – and that’s true. The only thing that can make him change is himself. But maybe there’s a way you can convince him that’s a good idea.”

Sasha leaned forward and gave Mona a clever idea.

7. Chris

When Chris walked in the door from work a few days later, it was to the sight of Mona no longer sulking. Chris felt a weight lift off his shoulders. The moment his foot crossed the threshold, she jumped on him like a snow leopard seizing its prey

“Hey.” She smiled widely. “About that dinner… I’m sorry we had a misunderstanding. Let’s have a real romantic night. We’ll go eat at one of those fancy restaurants on the bay.”

Chris stared at her.

She beamed at him, waiting for an answer.

He regained his composure. “Sure, we can do that,” he stammered.

Chris’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead. They had that dinner the last week, and Mona wasn’t sentimental or attached to date nights. Two dates in one month, for her, was irregular.

Again, a feeling that there might be something going on pulled at Chris, but he shrugged it off. He wasn’t going to question Mona about why she wanted what she wanted; she didn’t need his permission.

“That answer took a while,” she hummed. “I was thinking, you know, we talked about how we were going to do all this stuff, but we’ve never even been to the bay.”

“You made the sale.” Chris grinned. “Stop selling.”

“Okay,” she said. “I just want to make sure you’re okay with it.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Chris asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. But even a blind man – no, even Chris – could see that she did.

8. Ramona

Mona reached down her back, grasped the zipper, and pulled up.

The white dress cinched up against her body. She grabbed the sides and straightened it out. She turned around in front of the mirror, making sure the dress looked all right.

She leaned forward, checking her mascara one last time. She wanted everything to be perfect.

Specifically, she wanted to be so distracting that Chris had to look away from his phone. With a sleek white dress that hugged her form and complimented her warm brown eyes, she looked every inch the woman Chris married.

She’d picked out a swanky place, three dollar signs on Yelp, right along the bay. They got a table out on the deck over the water, with the bridge directly in view. Another tactical choice: she wanted Chris to be surrounded, given no chance to pull out his damn phone.

Ramona stepped out of the bedroom and leaned in the doorframe. She smiled at Chris, batting her eyelashes.

He laid sprawled on the couch as he always was, save for the black jacket and black pants he wore.

He didn’t look up at her. “You ready to go?”

The drive to the restaurant was silent. Ramona drove, nontraditional though that may be. She wanted to give him a chance to look at the view, and she wanted to keep their destination a surprise.

All of that was lost on him. His view remained fixed downward, at an angle Ramona imagined might give him a neckache.

Ramona glanced over at him. “You excited for tonight?” “’Course.”

She licked her lips and tried again. “It’s beautiful out tonight, isn’t it?”

He didn’t look up. “Yeah, it is.”

She drove the rest of the way in silence. She thought that surely, Chris wouldn’t go the entire ride there without trying to talk to her. But somehow, he managed to.

Finally, they pulled up and handed the keys off to the valet (a valet he would pay for, if things kept up this way). As they walked in, Mona hung back. Ordinarily, a man would seat the woman first, but she wanted Chris to notice the view.

He didn’t. The waiter led them to their table. Chris took the seat with his back to the bridge without giving a single sign he had noticed.

The silence stretched on, too. They perused the menu, with a cordial “the fish looks nice,” and “the cobbler sounds great.” But even that clipped conversation fell away quickly. They were left in silence.

Mona’s view was fantastic. Except for Chris, smack in the center, head ducked and his eyes reflecting the blue light of an LCD screen.

Mona swallowed. She sat in silence for a full ten minutes.

She wondered how she thought this night would be any different.

She wondered how she thought their lives would be any different.

They used to sit around at the house and not do anything in their sleepy Midwest town. They thought San Francisco would get them active and participating in life again. San Francisco, while oppressively expensive, had everything that an American could want within a ten-hour drive. Nightlife, travel, business opportunities, clubs, you name it. San Francisco was supposed to change their lives.

For her, that panned out. For Chris, it didn’t.

Mona knew it wasn’t because he was lazy. He worked ten- hour days at his consulting firm in that sad, dingy cubicle. But knowing it wasn’t sheer laziness didn’t tell Mona what it was.

Why wouldn’t he get out and live?

What is it about this guy? Is reality not good enough for him? Ramona couldn’t help it. She hated women who nagged their men, but she could only handle so much. “Why are you on your phone again?”

9. Chris

He had only meant to be on his phone for a moment. Mark posted another photo, and Mark’s photos tended to be good. His thumb hovered over the notification without conscious thought.

His lovely wife Mona’s voice cut through his consciousness. “Why are you on your phone again?”

“What are you talking about?” He asked, reflexively putting his phone in his blazer pocket before processing. “I was only on my phone for a second.”

“Which is it – you don’t know what I’m talking about, or you were only on your phone for a second?”

The bite in Mona’s tone was very uncharacteristic of her. Chris narrowed his eyes. “What’s going on?”

She scowled at him. ”You’ve been on your phone all night.”

“It can’t be that much.” He was only on his phone for a second.

“The only things you’ve said to me tonight are ‘when are we leaving,’ ‘where are we sitting,’ and ‘this looks like a nice place.’”

Chris’s eyes turned hard. “Ramona, do not exaggerate -“

“If you’ve said anything else to me at all, go ahead and remind me.”

Chris opened his mouth to retort with what he had said that night, but he found he couldn’t quite remember.

But that couldn’t be true, could it?

His window of silence gave her a chance to speak.

“I feel like you’re not here, Chris.” She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Ever. When I go places with you, I feel like I went there alone. It’s the same as if you didn’t go.”

Chris’s temper flared. “Now that is completely inaccurate. I came out here with you, didn’t I?”

“Who cares if it’s technically accurate? Don’t you care that your wife feels like you’re so distant you might as well not be there?”

“Of course I care, Mona,” he said. “But if you’re being ridiculous -“

Ramona kept going, already on a roll. “I mean, I spent hours putting together that dinner the other night, and you didn’t even notice. It was a romantic night, and you didn’t realize that because you were on your phone, instead of paying attention to me, the person in the room with you.”

“Mona, I am with you right now,” he said.

At that moment, his phone vibrated loudly in his pocket. Chris’s head jerked toward it.

“Really,” she said dryly.

He pulled it out for a moment, reflexively, only meaning to make sure it wasn’t something urgent.

“I mean, look,” she said, gesturing to him. “Look at you.” “Excuse me?”
“Look at you! You are so addicted to your phone you can’t help but stick your nose in it rather than put it away. And then you complain about how life is passing you by.”

Chris’s chest felt hot. His hands clenched around the fork on the table. “Excuse me?”

When in the hell did this conversation become about him and how his life is slipping through his fingers?

“If you don’t want life to pass you by, then look!” She pointed behind him.

Chris’s anger turned to confusion, his ire forgotten. How could looking behind him make his life stop slipping away?

He turned in his chair and looked.

What he saw took his breath away.

The sun was setting over the Golden Gate Bridge. The sunset was magnificent red to pink to purple, dying the sky. The clear blue water reflected the rays bouncing off the clouds, turning the water multicolor. The lights of the buildings twinkled.

This beautiful sight was right behind him the entire time he’d been here, and he had no idea.

Chris heard the water lapping against the shore, gentle and consistent.

Shit, Chris realized, Mona’s right.

Suddenly disgusted with the notifications which ten minutes ago seemed so riveting, he turned off his phone and shoved it in his pocket. Anyone who wanted to talk to him could wait. He was on a date with his wife under the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Mona said, voice thick.

Chris sensed the opportunity. He turned back to her. For the first time that night, he took in her outfit. She wore a lovely white dress, and she curled her hair so it fell in an elegant waterfall. She was the picture of beauty.

Tears pooled in the corner of her eyes, and his composure cracked.

“Yes,” Chris said, “You are.”

She smiled wide. Chris could tell she bit back the instinct to call him cheesy.

“Next time you plan something, I’ll be present,” Chris said. “I promise.”

“Well, let’s get through this plan first.” She leaned forward and took his hand. “Maybe then we can try something bigger.”

“Let’s go somewhere,” Chris exclaimed. “Anywhere. I’ll turn my phone off when we leave, and I won’t turn it back on until we get home again.”

Mona raised her eyebrows. “That’s bold.”

“I’m serious.”

She fell silent.

“All right,” she said slowly, “I accept this promise. But you better keep it.”

Three Weeks Later

Chris pulled into the parking spot and cut the engine. Ramona threw the door open and stretched her legs.

“Oh my God what a long drive,” she moaned. She reached down and touched her toes, working the stiffness out of her back.

Chris looked up at the end of the parking lot. There were dozens (if not hundreds) of people milling around in this particular parking lot.

That didn’t surprise Chris. It was the end of August, after all. It wasn’t the best time of year to be there, with the burning sunlight beating down on their backs, but it didn’t matter. Chris had spent years asleep, and he couldn’t bear it even one second longer.

Chris got up and out of the car and circled to where his wife sat. He leaned down and kissed her hair, and then reached up to stretch his own back.

His phone lay in the center console, turned off. It could remain there until the end of time for all he cared. It’s not like it even worked where they were going.

A gentle breeze blew over the parking lot. Chris closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The sky was a perfect blue, not a cloud in sight.

“The weather’s fantastic. Mona, you couldn’t have picked a better day .”

Mona waved her hand. “As if the weather cares when we take off from work.”

People unpacked around them, pulling North Face tank tops, Patagonia shorts, and high-tech backpacks out of their trunks. Chris opened their trunk, and did the same, hoisting their pre-packed bags onto his back. They’d spent a fortune on the gear, but he knew it was worth it.

Mona was still rubbing her legs. “Walking will help,” Chris said, dropping her pack in front of her.

She looked up at him, her eyes wide with surprise. “Someone’s an eager beaver.”

“I’ve been waiting my entire life to do this,” Chris said.

“I thought you were waiting your entire life for me. Or do you say that to all your major life events?” She got out of the car and hoisted her pack onto her back.

“Which way?” Chris asked.

She pointed to the end of the lot. “That’s the trailhead. Let’s stop by the visitor center first, get a map? Register with the center? So that if we get lost, we don’t die out there?”

Chris swallowed. “Oh yeah.”

Mona laughed. “This is why you have me.”

They walked with all the other people, with their backpacks and their walking sticks, all headed toward the same visitor’s center and the same trailhead.

Mona grabbed Chris’s hand and squeezed.

He turned to her, resting his hand on her shoulder. “What’s up?”

She turned to him, burying her face in his shoulder. “You’re here with me.” Her arms hugged him tightly.

Chris wrapped his arms around her, backpack and all. “I am. And I’m not going anywhere.”

At the end of the lot, there was a sign. The sign said, “Welcome to the Grand Canyon.”