Today's Reading

CHAPTER 1

7:15 A.M., WIND GAP, PENNSYLVANIA.

350 MILES REMAINING.

Ten years ago, my boyfriend killed my best friend.

For a long time, that's all anyone thought about when they looked at me. Christ, for a long time that's all 'I' thought about when I'd catch my reflection in the mirror: sand-brown eyes, so plain compared to Emily's vivid green, with dark shadows forming in the creases underneath. 'I am Micah Wilkes,' I'd say to myself, 'former girlfriend of Alex Swift, former friend of Emily Winters'. Or: 'I am Micah Wilkes, and I make bad decisions.' Or, in my darker moments, 'I am Micah Wilkes, and the one thing I've learned, the one thing I know for sure, is you can't trust anyone but yourself'.

Those old mantras come back to me now, and I try to put them out of my head, to focus instead on the rhythmic sweep of the windshield wipers, the sharp pings of sleet against the glass. I glance up toward the rearview mirror, study the ice-slicked road behind me. A white sedan approaches, moving fast; I hold the steering wheel tight as though my grip could provide some protection against what's about to happen. But the sedan jolts to the left at the last minute, speeding past me, continuing on its way, and then I'm alone again: just woods and road and snow.

I shouldn't have let my guard down, shouldn't have let myself forget. These past few years have been good—even better than good, at times. They've been normal. I'd find myself at Stomping Grounds, laughing at a customer's corny joke, or burrowing into Ryan on the couch, his yellow and black fleece pulled up over us, my cold toes warmed under his feet, and I'd think: 'Maybe this is what other people have been doing all this time. Maybe this isn't so bad.'

I reach out across the passenger seat for my messenger bag and pull it toward me, across a bed of crumpled-up papers and loose wrappers. My car isn't usually disheveled like this, but I've had things other than cleaning on my mind. I fish around in my bag until my fingers touch my phone. I pull it out, take a breath, and check the screen.

Five missed calls. None of them from you.

I need to talk to you, Joshua. You need to talk to me. It wasn't him. I got it wrong. I'm trying to fix things. I just want to make things right.

That's why I'm coming to find you.

CHAPTER 2

7:33 A.M., STROUDSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA.

335 MILES REMAINING.

I've been trying to think of what to say when I see you, how to make you understand. I should start a few weeks ago, I think; that's when everything began to shift out of focus. In fact, I can pinpoint the day: the first Sunday in November, the first day it really felt like winter was approaching, when the temperature dropped twenty degrees and the clouds threatened snow, and Mrs. Klein nearly died right on the floor in the middle of Stomping Grounds, with everyone twisting around in their seats to get a better view. That's what took me back to the campsite for the first time in almost ten years. That's what set this all in motion.

I'm sure you remember how seriously everyone takes the holiday season in Calvary, and I think things have only escalated since you've been gone. The entire downtown was plastered in competing decorations, with dancing skeletons or turkeys in pilgrim hats displayed prominently in most of the shop windows. Hotel Calvary— always ahead of the curve—already had garland wrapped around the poles supporting its awning, and someone had recently tied big red bows around all of the streetlights in preparation for the holidays. I set up my chalkboard easel on the sidewalk, which featured a large pumpkin sketched out in orange chalk, and scribbled GOBBLE GOBBLE! next to the block of text advertising our apple cider.

I unlatched the doors at my normal time. The high schooler who helped me out part-time on weekends, Anna McCarron, arrived twenty minutes late, which was also her normal time. We were busy, but not overly so: the Sunday crowd is more steady than the typical weekday crowd, but without the rush of people around seven-thirty trying to get coffees on their way to work. It wasn't busy enough for Anna, apparently, who rested on her elbows in between customers, swiping listlessly on her phone, blond hair brushing the countertop. Her hair was always down, no matter how many times I asked her to tie it back. I bussed tables and cleaned coffee mugs and—maybe just to make a point to Anna that there was always more work to be done— wiped down the windows overlooking Main Street.

I opened Stomping Grounds when I came back from Chicago, using the money I got from selling my mother's place. We're right in the spot where Mr. Hunt's ice cream shop used to be, the place you, me, and Emily used to walk to on Saturdays when we couldn't come up with anything better to do. Sometimes we'd take Culver Street down from your house, shuffling along in single file, diving off the street onto the narrow dirt ridge lining the road when an unexpected car hurtled around a bend. Other times, we'd cut through the woods—the better way, the more direct way—but then we had to pass through some of Mr. Reeves's property, and he used to get so mad that he posted signs promising to shoot the next kid who came through.


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