Five minutes before closing, the bell above the shop door rings and Patrick glances up from the register to find that the newcomer is Stevie. She takes one look at the notepad and stack of receipts at his side and nods, her half-smile knowing, leaving him be to finish working his way down the closing checklist. While Patrick finishes balancing the cash register against the day’s sales, Stevie wanders over to the fridge to peruse the new stock.
It’s one of David’s days off, which means that David only spent half the day in the store. He rolled in an hour after opening to deliver Patrick’s tea, rearrange the display of fall knits for the third time in less than a week, and make half a dozen calls before rushing off to triage Alexis’ newest crisis. As always, there are artifacts of David Rose at peak whirlwind in what he left behind; the colour-coordinated chapsticks by the register, the post-it on the computer reminding him to save one jar of the black raspberry jam for Twyla’s cousin’s step-brother’s wife, and the lingering warmth of his hand on Patrick’s cheekbone.
“David’s on his way,” Stevie says when he returns from putting the cash and the books in the safe.
Patrick flips the sign to closed but leaves the door unlocked. When he hears the display fridge sliding shut behind him, he calls over his shoulder, “Hey, did you grab the--?”
“Of course,” Stevie says, depositing three bottles of Roland’s newest microbrew on the counter. They share an amused smile, united in the knowledge that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Roland never has mastered the art of naming things. David’s long-suffering patience had held on through Live Bramble IPA, Vivid Scourge lager, and After Drain stout, but this particular product had well and truly broken him. When Roland had announced the introduction of Schitty Caribou ale, David had thrown his hands in the air, turned on his heel, and left the room to quietly but efficiently meltdown in the back, leaving Patrick to explain that the name may not be quite the store aesthetic or the homage to the town Roland thought it was.
“Think he’ll notice?” Patrick asks.
“Think he’ll drink it anyway?”
He clinks bottles with Stevie and settles back against the counter, taking a sip of his beer. His phone buzzes in his pocket, but he lets it go to voicemail. They do have a landline for the store, but they spend enough time on the move that most vendors tend to call one of their cell phones directly. Whatever it is will keep until morning.
“So Mrs. Rose found out there’s a location scout staying at the motel right now.”
“Hallmark Christmas special?”
Stevie shakes her head. “Horror movie.” Her voice is flat, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother her. The motel isn’t an extension of her the same way Rose Apothecary is of David, a small part of himself put on display for the world to see, but it’s still something she takes pride in.
It isn’t something she would appreciate him addressing openly, she’s a lot like David in that respect, so he takes the indirect path. “How many times has Mrs. Rose accidentally run into him?”
“She turned off the power to his room and set up in the lobby for when he came to complain.”
“That must have helped set the tone.”
“Roland thought we should stage another dead body…” Stevie continues, launching into a story of the rest of her afternoon.
Another dead body. One of the many events which took place around David’s birthday. It feels like a lifetime ago and just yesterday, the demarcation line between Before and After. It’s hard to imagine a time Before now, when Patrick was unsure if he’d ever get around to telling his business partner that he’d accept a nooner in lieu of a lunch hour.
His phone buzzes again, and Patrick spares a brief glance at the screen when he finally finishes it out of his pocket. Unknown caller, local area code. He swipes up to answer the call and puts the phone to his ear. “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Patrick Brewer?”
“I’m calling from Elmdale General Hospital. We have you listed as the emergency contact for David Rose…”
He doesn’t get everything, but he gets enough. When he hangs up the phone, Stevie holds out her hand. “Give me your keys.” She looks ashen.
“I’m fine to--.” He looks down at his phone, still in his hand. He sees the notification for one missed call, the one he didn’t pick up earlier. It’s from David.
“Patrick. Give me your keys.”
He gives her his keys.
Schitt’s Creek is too small to have a hospital of its own. The closest emergency room is in Elmdale, forty-five minutes away. Patrick can’t remember if there’s an ambulance depot in town. What is the response time like? Was David on back roads? How long did it take someone to find him?
Stevie doesn’t say anything for the first ten minutes of the drive, when Patrick sits in the passenger seat and stares at his call logs with David, willing and dreading his phone to ring again.
Yesterday: One outgoing. (“Okay, you were right about the string lights. I’ll order more tomorrow.”)
Two days ago: Two incoming. (“Thai? There’s no Thai places in town.” “Little Italy does good Thai food.” “Are you listening to yourself?”) (“Fine. Get the Som Tum.”)
Three days ago: One outgoing. (“Hey, you didn’t need to stop by last night, I know you had plans with your Mom, but – thanks.”)
Was David calling from the car? Or had he already – was he --.
Patrick has told him a hundred times, it doesn’t matter if the car is too old to have built-in Bluetooth sync, that doesn’t give him a license to look at his cell phone when driving. He has hung up on David for calling him from the road more than once.
They hit a spot of traffic at the halfway mark, the normally two-lane road down to one due to flashing lights on the shoulder ahead.
One hundred metres out, the fire truck blocking their view pulls out and the scene clears enough for them to see the remains of a car in the ditch, the front end crumpled.
Fifty metres out, they see the license plate.
Ten metres past, they see a piece of the top of the car, flipped over and resting on the payment, the edges of the metal jagged and twisted where it was cut open in a hurry.
Fifty metres past, Patrick says, “Pull over,” and proceeds to throw up on the side of the road.
Stevie does not say “I’m sure he’s fine” or “Everything’s going to be okay” or “It’s just like David to be this dramatic.”
She does say, “I’m going to kill him.”
Patrick says, “We should call his family.”
Stevie says, “I called them from the car.”
The doctor says “Stable” and “No permanent damage” and “You can see him now” and Patrick doesn’t get everything, but he gets enough.
David’s face lights up when he sees Patrick, the loopy gaze of the very, very drugged widening in recognition.
“See?” he yells at the nurse beside him, waving an uncoordinated hand in Patrick’s general direction. “This is why I needed my pants. My phone is in my pants.”
He’s wearing a hospital gown, there are tubes and cables snaking out of him in a dozen different directions, his right arm is in a sling, his ribs are wrapped tightly, and there are dozens of small cuts across his face from shattered glass that David will likely obsess about at a later date. That David will be alive to obsess about. Patrick clears his throat against the tears welling up in his eyes, turning away to collect himself.
Stevie squeezes his arm, stepping further into the room. “Pretty sure your pants are a lost cause, David.”
“Oh my God, those were Hermes.”
“Bet you could still make a pair of shorts out of them.”
“That is a crime against fashion.”
“I’ll see if I can find your phone, though.”
“I needed to call my Patrick,” David says to Stevie, not quite slurring but with longer vowels than normal, and Patrick turns back around.
“My boyfriend,” David corrects himself. “You’re your own Patrick,” he says.
“Is that right?”
David blinks, his gaze unfocused, openly confused. Patrick drops into a chair at the side of the bed and reaches a hand out to touch him. His hand is clammy but warm, and Patrick thinks chapsticks and post-its and fingertips. His cheek tingles with a long-distant echo of David’s hand on his face this morning, kissing him goodbye on his way out of the store.
Patrick moves his hand up to David’s face, then his head, carding a hand through his hair before bringing his hand to rest on his uninjured shoulder.
“I think you had it right the first time.”