The fact that everything surrounding her is unfamiliar doesn't scare Wyatt Kennedy. If she were so easily shaken, she wouldn't be the girl who dropped everything back in New York and moved to Portland, or the girl who escaped for weeks into the Alaskan wilderness, or the girl who hopped on her bike and drove off for places unknown on a fucking whim. So no, standing in Forest Park and not recognizing a single thing isn't terrifying.
Luckily, she has a well-worn and well-loved copy of One City's Wilderness in her possession, the margins filled with Jack's handwritten notes—notes she's spent several nights studying before making her way out into the park on a hazy Monday morning. He's written a lot of useful information in here, plus a lot of things Wyatt shrugs off as she comes across them: notes on birds and plants in certain areas of the park, places he's enjoyed and places he hasn't, and she uses this insider information to map her very first hike in Portland.
She decides to take the lower Maple Trail loop because it's fairly easy and incredibly short—just a three-mile circuit, which is almost effortless for Wyatt. But she doesn't want to get too far ahead of herself, especially in a park she doesn't know like the back of her hand (nor as well as Jack knows this park), so she picks a trail that's feasible to hike on her own.
Along the way, she walks into a junction between two other trails, and when she looks out, her heart nearly stops. There in the distance, she can clearly make out Mount St. Helens, miles of trees and water stretching out between her and the snowy peak. A bridge sits to the side, one Wyatt thinks she knows the name of but isn't too sure just yet (but she knows she'll check the book when she finally sits down). But now? Right now? She stands in awe on the overlook, her breath coming out in quick, cloudy bursts in the cold Oregon air, and it's the first time that she doesn't even regret moving.
Because she's there, and she's surrounded by bubbling brooks and canyons and trees so tall she can't make out the tops, and there are mountain ranges sandwiching the city of Portland in a way that Wyatt fucking loves. On the overlook, she scrambles until she's sitting right on the edge, her langes dangling over and her backpack tucked into her side, and she just looks. She studies. She takes mental notes, sure to tell Jack about this little slice of paradise on a short trail in his dad's park, whether or not he's already seen it.
Minutes pass—long, slow minutes in which Wyatt can no longer feel her cheeks because it's so cold outside and she's smiling so hard at the scenery before her. She wants to take a picture, so she does, digging through her bag until she pulls out an old DSLR, and then she takes a few shots of the far off mountain and the beauty before her. They're pictures she already knows she'll send home to Ellie, to her parents, to a few friends who are still curious about how Wyatt's holding up on the other coast—and just because she appreciates instant gratification, she snaps a few more photos with her iPhone before taking one last look and carefully pushing herself back up.
It's the best part of her time in Portland, and before Wyatt pockets her phone for the final stretch of her hike, she sends the photo of St. Helens to Jack. Now tell me when we're going? is all she writes.
"Where are you? Is that your apartment?"
Wyatt looks behind her, to the window at her back, and then she turns to face her computer screen with a smile and a quick nod. "Yup, that's it. The whole thing, just this window," she laughs, which she can hear echo through her dad's computer speakers all the way in New York. She's sitting on her bed, cross-legged and balancing her Macbook precariously on her shins, and the angle isn't the most flattering thing in the world when she glances at the far right corner of her screen and scowls.
It's her weekly Skype session with her parents back home. Ellie is still in the city, so she knows that they'll talk later that night, and August is still running around the backyard like a maniac, so this leaves Wyatt some alone time with Ray and Marilyn. They look tired, which isn't unusual (because August is seven, after all, and fully wired every hour of the day), but they also look happy to see their oldest daughter—even if it's through a screen, even if she's thousands of miles away.
"Well, aren't you going to give us a tour?" Marilyn pipes in with a laugh that sounds similar to Wyatt's, and she tilts her head to push Ray out of the shot, smirking all the while. "You've been there for a month, honey, and you still haven't shown us your new digs." Digs. Probably a word she picked up from one of her high school students, and her aging mother trying out some new slang for size just makes Wyatt roll her eyes dramatically.
"Alright, alright. I'll take you on a tour, but you have to promise to be on your best behavior. My roommate might be home, and I can't have you scaring the shit out of him just yet." It's not going to be easy to lug her laptop around the townhouse she now calls home, but she tries. They see her room, which is now fully organized with her bed against the wall and a few framed pictures and paintings hanging above the tufted headboard. Her desk sits against another wall, covered in maps and half-filled journals and pens that probably don't work anymore, and on a few shelves above her desk are cameras she's collected over the years—ones she can no longer use but still look pretty. There are a few more tokens from home, too—a paddle she received on her latest birthday, Christmas gifts that were mailed to her from friends and family back home, a few more framed pictures and cherished items Wyatt knows she'll never part with.
Downstairs is entirely different. Wyatt's only been in Portland a month, and the only changes she's made to the apartment she shares with Jack are in her bedroom. Everything else is his, and it's painfully obvious when she starts walking and talking her parents through the lower level. "The living room," she says, slowly sweeping over the sectional that belongs to Jack, all the other pieces of furniture and decoration that also belong to Jack, and Wyatt thinks to herself that maybe she should add a touch of her own personality here, too.
She makes her way through the kitchen and contemplates showing them the garage, but it's cold out and she doesn't know how likely it is that their WiFi will still work down there, and it's not even important that they see her motorcycle's new home or Jack's drumset or the shelves in the garage that hold their combined camping equipment. After a few minutes, she runs back upstairs and plops her laptop on her bed, then takes a seat on the floor with an exhausted smile.
"That's it. That's the whole thing. New home in Portland, so now you know where I live and that it's not a total dump," she teases, and Ray only rolls his eyes in a way that's eerily similar to Wyatt's mannerisms. Marilyn rests her chin in her hand with a small sigh.
"It's lovely, Wyatt. It really is. I'm just glad you're being safe and taking care of yourself over there." Her mother smiles, a little too sadly in Wyatt's opinion, and then she continues. "You know we'd love to visit you as soon as we can, but we'd have to at least wait until Spring Break here. I'd want to spend as much time with you as possible." There's another smile, but Ray cuts in before Marilyn can make this any sadder than it has to be.
"If not, then there's always summer," he assures her, and then his face lights up with a thought. "But I know August won't be able to wait that long to see you. What if...what if Ellie brings her when she visits in the spring? Do you think that'd be okay?"
Wyatt can't stop herself from grinning, wide and toothy and dimpled, as she thinks about having both of her sisters there with her, and she doesn't hesitate before agreeing. "Yes! Of course, yes. That'd be fantastic. I mean, I'd have to talk to Jack to make sure it's alright with him, but...even if he says no, we can find somewhere nearby for us to stay." Because of course Wyatt isn't going to let her sisters visit her in Portland without spending every single second with them, whether they're awake or not. "I'd love that. I really, really would."
What she wants to do is cry—tears of happiness, of course—because a month is the longest she's gone without seeing her family in recent memory. Sure, Ellie spent her college years in Texas, so she's used to the distance between her and her younger sister. But Ray? Marilyn? August? In the seven years she's been alive, Wyatt hasn't gone more than a week without seeing the youngest Kennedy, and her heart has ached every single day that's passed since she left New York. She gets pictures and videos and phone calls, but they don't come close to filling the void.
At least she's not alone, though. Jack seems to understand that she's homesick, even if she's been doing better lately, and he never hesitates to spend time with her when she asks. It helps her feel less lonely, knowing that she can rely on him in some form or fashion, and ever since they cleared the air, she's started thinking of him as a real friend. Or at least on his way to being one. So Wyatt has stopped feeling so sad and homesick, and her parents can tell that she's not so grumpy these days.
"Well, anyway. When do you think we'll get to meet this roommate of yours?" Marilyn cracks a grin and Wyatt laughs out loud, and she knows she can't hold them off for long. But today? Today's just not the day and they all know it.
"Maybe some other time. But hey, how's everything else?" And suddenly the conversation is no longer about Wyatt and Portland and her new apartment and her new roommate; it's about how August damn near fell out of the treehouse Wyatt and Ray built her last summer, and that Ellie is spending more time at home on the weekends, and what one of Marilyn's students said to land a week of detention. And this, Wyatt realizes, is what she misses the most.
How was another Saturday in Portland, OK?
Oh girl, you do not want to know. It'd scandalize the shit out of you.
Ooh, did something good happen?
Nothing unusual—but that's not saying very much, you know...considering everything that's happened here has been weird as fuck.
Does this mean more hilarity with the cutie roomie?
Hm, well. I'll let you be secretive for now, but I expect to hear all the dirty details when I call later tonight.
You got it, babe. How's home?
Boring without you. But hey, I'm planning to visit soon, if that's okay?
Of course! When were you thinking about coming?
Sometime in April, after my birthday.
Perfect. So that means just four months before I see your pretty face.
Four months! That sounds so far away. Think you can make a visit back home before then?
I don't think so, El. I'll be coming back in July for mom and dad's birthdays though!
Ugh you suck. Why did you have to move so far away?
I know, I know. Doesn't mean I can't miss you, but...at least you seem happy.
I am, I promise. I'll talk to you tonight, okay?
Alright, jerkface. I love you. Talk to you later.