His hair was growing out again, but not as badly as last time. He'd washed it with handsoap in the Wal-Mart bathroom the day before, so it didn't get as dirty as it was before. He imagined being able to shave and shower again at Brian's. As brilliant as that opportunity sounded, he was looking forward to seeing Brian himself way more than he was Brian's shower.
He only wished he could see AJ, too. He'd go to see AJ when he got back to LA, he vowed.
Nick had been having good luck so far during the walk. He'd only hit heavy rain once, and he'd managed to find a garbage bag that wasn't too dirty yet in an outdoor trash bin that he converted into a make-shift rain coat. His blanket had gotten wrecked in the downpour, though, and he ended up chucking it into the receptacle before moving on. There was one night where the temperature dipped kind of low, but he found a little camp ground and lit a fire in a barbeque pit with AJ's lighter, and laid close enough to it that it had warmed him. And one day he'd spotted a Salvation Army store and stepped inside to get out of a small rain shower that was falling, and the guy running the store had seen him and given him three shirts and two pairs of pants, plus a new pair of shoes, and fifty dollars. "The point of the store is to help others, son," he'd said, when Nick had thanked him.
He'd saved one of the shirts and one of the pants for the day when he arrived at Brian's so that he could look as good as he possibly could the first time they saw each other again.
He prayed Brian still lived at the same address. But he was more afraid that Brian wouldn't forgive him, assuming he even remembered him. He imagined horrible scenarios, scenarios where he rang Brian's door bell and Brian slammed the door in his face or started screaming at him to get off the property. He imagined a blank stare and his mouth forming the words "who are you again?"
The collected pieces of McDonald's food was filling, but not satisfying. He crumpled up the papers and threw them all away and stepped inside to refill his bottle again. He grabbed a couple handfuls of the packets of ketchup on the way out, stuffing them in his pockets, figuring later he'd try mixing it with water and making makeshift tomato soup.
The bottom of his feet were calloused by this point, he was certain. He'd gotten blisters early on and they'd broken as he had ignored them and continued walking on them. By now, he had a feeling he could've walked over a bed of tacks without feeling them at all. He took very few breaks, and those that he took were short, sitting on a median strip with a sign asking for help to get some money for a cup of coffee, or leaning against the guard rails along the side of the road. He'd only stopped for a long period of time once, and that was at a Panera Bread restaurant after the Salvation Army guy had given him the fifty dollars. He'd gotten a bowl of chicken soup and a roast beef sandwich and he'd eaten every bite slowly, practically in heaven, sitting in a big comfy leather chair by a fake fireplace, reading a news paper and feeling content. He'd stayed there probably three hours, just getting warm.
He'd been walking for twenty-eight days now. It was November 23rd. The air was starting to cool and the days were short, but he was determined to cross the Georgia state line before night fall, so he kept up a brisk pace, thinking of nothing but making it to Brian's house soon.
The entire time he'd been walking, as he neared the Georgia state line, he was thinking about the words he'd say when he first saw Brian. What words could he say? He'd ruined their lives, he'd disappeared, disappointed Brian, hurt him, scarred him, abandoned him... He'd been the worst best friend there ever was, and now he was showing up unannounced. He was going to be a burden, he was going to be another mouth to feed, another problem. He wasn't even sure Brian would want to see him.
I know I'm not worthy to be your friend anymore, he recited in his mind, I know its never going to be the same between us, and I don't even have to come inside the house. I understand if you don't remember me or don't want to look at me... but I just had to see you, had to hear your voice, had to try to ask you to please, please forgive me for the past...