Branli, Andrew, and Ashanty stood wait outside Renee’s door. For a few moments there was no answer or sound and Branli began to question whether they were at the right house.
“Who is it?” Renee said a few feet from the door. “Is that you, guys?”
Branli put a finger to his lips and hushed. He knocked again without responding.
Renee knew it was them. It was the excitement, the thrill, the grand surprise that made her hesitant.
“Reneeeee…” Andrew called from behind the door.
Branli and Ashanty began to scratch at the door, taunting. “Open up, Renee,” Branli went on. “We’re dying outside.”
Renee couldn’t help but laugh. She opened the door. “You guys are soo creepy I love it!”
Hugs were exchanged immediately. The look on Renee as she finally saw the boys in person was priceless. Her eyes gleamed and the smile was constant.
Breakfast was shared. As the meal ended, and Branli stirred the remaining bits on his plate, Renee turned to him. “What did you guys have planned?”
Branli actually hadn’t given it much thought. Devon was still on his mind. Then suddenly, “Sierra National Forest… it’s like 30minutes from here right?”
Renee laughed mockingly. “Hell no. It’s over two hours from here. Are you guys seriously going there?” She turned to face Ashanty and Drew. They in turned faced Branli.
The awkward moment once again.
“Ah, none of this is really planned out I see.” Renee pointed out the obvious. Suddenly a grin was present on her face. Her eyes narrowed and she turned back to Branli. “Let’s go. The moment has been declared.”
Branli’s friend Kathy had suggested he visit the Sierra National Forest. He was told to take his worries up to the forest, leave them there and return with a lighter load. Despite the thought and intent, he knew this load would loom and linger. Devon had not made this easier.
Breaking away from the group, Branli went on to explore the park. The verdant grounds of the area was overwhelming and contrasted to the concrete jungle Branli knew in Los Angeles. The wind teased the branches and leaves, carrying fresh scents across the land. The serene moments were broken by passerbys and other hikers; or even by a large family with kids.
Regardless, even such a peaceful place did not deserve the stresses and unloading of what Branli knew. It was almost sacrilegious to do so.
Rupert — Branli’s phone — rang.
Probably Drew asking where he is.
Caller ID read: 000-000-0000
“Hello?” Branli unanswered uneasily.
“Hey, you,” said the deep male voice on the other end. It wasn’t Drew.
“Who is this?”
“You really don’t remember me do you?”
“Of course. You remembered.”
“No. Just a lucky guess all things considering.” It was the first time Branli had ever heard his voice. Suddenly things were more real.
“I guess you’re right,” Devon admitted. “Have you told your friends yet?”
“You’re going to lose them if you don’t tell them what’s going on, but then again where we’re going you’re going to lose them anyway.”
“They don’t need to know the details.”
“Perhaps it’s time we know the details,” Drew interjected. He approached from the trail behind Branli.
“Crap,” Branli said into the phone. “I gotta go.” He hung up.
“What’s going on?” Drew asked. “And before you say it’s a secret or some random trip. Why don’t you start with the truth.”
Ashanty and Renee were nearby, they would’ve left given the tense moment, but everyone’s curiosity had been piqued.
Branli looked down at the watch: 457.1hrs remaining…