Wilderness inside and out

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More blisters than bliss

The amount of dirt culminated, which means that it couldn’t get any worse. I started to feel and look like crap. My back was hurting from carrying a heavy bag, and blisters on my heels stung with every step I took. And I took lots of them. I didn’t get much rest at night due to the rocky surface, which made sleeping almost unfeasible.

“Are you okay, Nicole?” Alex expressed his concern, probably rooted in the sight of black circles under my eyes that made me look like a ghost.

“I’m fine.”

“You look terrible.” Phil never failed to make things worse.

“Why, thank you,” I fussed in a high-pitched voice.

“Your bag is way too heavy,” interjected John. “One of us guys should carry some of your stuff.”

“I’m good, thanks.” I proclaimed and then silently suffered until dusk when I dropped off like a Sleeping Beauty as soon as we stopped for the night.

It wasn’t the Prince Charming’s kiss that woke me up, though, but Philips rumbling hands, going through my belongings. When I opened my eyes, he was adjusting my water bottle to the side of his luggage.

“Leave it alone,” I said, rasping.

“Why, are you too attached to it?” He didn’t stop what he was doing.

I managed to sit up and found that all of the muscles in my body were aching, and by touching my forehead, I estimated I was a little feverish.

“Phil...” I tried to raise my voice, but it failed me ultimately.

“John’s right. You need help.”

“I neither need nor want it.”

While trying to put on my tracking boots, I realized that, due to the almost complete loss of my soles’ sensitivity, they didn’t hurt as much as the previous day, and I wasn’t sure whether that was a good or bad thing.

“You don’t, do you? Can you even walk, princess?”

“Don’t mock me.” I stood up, but my head started spinning fiercely.

“Whoa.” Phil grabbed my hand, supporting me. “Why don’t you just sit down?”

“I’m gonna be fine.”

“You’re sick and delusional,” he stated.

“I don’t contradict that. Where are John and Alex?”

“They needed to take a small detour for supplies and didn’t want to make you go any extra length,” Philip explained, and I sighed. “Great, I’m a burden already.”

“Well, yeah,” he said, not even attempting to be gentle about it.

I snorted with exasperation and tried to walk again, but it was too soon.

“So what?” Philip let out a chuckle. “We don’t care.”

“If this is supposed to make me feel better, it’s not working.”

“It isn’t supposed to do anything. I’m only being honest with you.”

I took a deep breath and really hoped to get better sooner rather than later. “So, why am I here? Why did you take me with you?”

“What makes you even ask that question? You and Alex are inseparable.”

“But,” I struggled to find the right words, “you seem to have reservations about my presence.”

He gave me a sharp glance which urged me to look away. “You shouldn’t give a shit about what I think.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t, but the insecurities I got from the fear of being unwelcome or unwanted would eat me alive.

“It doesn’t matter,” he finished.

It appeared to me as if he revealed a glimpse of how he felt about himself, and it was so full of self-loathing that it gave me chills. I wanted to tell him he was wrong but got scared that it would chase this abrupt openness away.

“Of course, it matters,” I said, and it did the chasing anyway.

“Well, here’s what I think. Let’s just stay put for the day,” Philip suggested. “A little rest won’t harm us.”

I pulled away from him, so he let go of me.

With reassuring words “I said, I’m good” I splashed some water on my face and finally strolled around the campsite, which made him run his hand through his hair in resignation. “You’re as stubborn as your brother, you know that?” he said but I ignored him and started picking up the baggage so we could leave.

I hated the idea of being a burden. I wouldn’t let myself be broken down by anyone or anything, let alone by stupid tiredness. It took me a great deal of effort to stand on my feet that day, but I managed to do it. With each mile, the dizziness became lighter, and by the evening, I started to feel like a living human, not a hunted animal. It was partly thanks to Philip’s help, as he carried at least one-third of my things.

The boys were staring at the map once again, contemplating where to go next. As if it mattered whether we scramble through wilderness here or there, I thought, but remained silent because they all looked very serious, so it was better not to interfere.

“Do anyone of you recall Sandra Čermáková? She used to go to school with us,” John said out of the blue.

I couldn’t fathom how he got from the kilometers count to primary school reminiscences.

“Of course!” Alex exclaimed. “She moved abroad after sixth or seventh grade, didn’t she? Oh, how we loved her. Do you think she’d recognize us?”

Philip was a year younger than them, had no clue who they were talking about, and started to be impatient: “What does it matter if some chick from your class remembers two horny teenagers drooling over her?”

“That is not the question here,” John corrected him.

“Then what is?”

“Whether you want to spend a couple of days in civilization,” he offered.

“Oh, I get it. Now is the moment when you come up with something brilliant.” Phil seized the situation well.

“Yes indeed. We have been in touch, and I know that Sandra’s parents run an auto camp in Žuljana. And that is, lady and gentlemen, just a few days trip from here.”

“Great, so now we will be chasing your ancient erection over Southern Europe’s states,” Philip retorted disapprovingly.

“I consider it quite a good idea,” Alex opposed him. “I mean, imagine showers, culture, bars... not that bad, in my opinion. I wouldn’t expect you to turn down an opportunity to copulate, though, brother.”

“I’m not turning down anything, just saying that John’s recently got out of a relationship. There are women everywhere. I don’t see any reason to pursue one specific girl. Plus, what if she’s not home?”

“I might have written her before we left,” my brother admitted.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Philip snapped, prompting John to explain, “She’s helped me a lot these last few months. I would really like to see her again. And it’s on Pelješac peninsula, you know - the sea...”

“Whatever, John,” Philip surrendered and Pelješac was where we went.

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