As she hiked her way higher and higher up the rocky mountainside, Caramel would periodically stop and gaze out at the incomparable view. From this height, the crowded and tumultuous city she had called home for her entire life became little more than a pebble on a hillside 100 miles away. “Like something straight from a nature documentary,” she muttered to herself, taking everything in before she turned back to continue her climb. She had left for the mountain before the sun had risen, before anyone would notice that she was gone. Put on her best pair of jeans, a gray rain coat, tied her hair into a ponytail, and left. It was turning afternoon now, no doubt they knew she was gone by now, though they’d definitely never think she’d be here, halfway up a mountain. Perhaps she’d be higher up by now if not for the decades of relative hectic laziness that the city encouraged, or the backpack she had stuffed the night before. Regardless of where she was, or where they thought she might be, that mattered little anymore. “This is my life now,” Caramel thought to herself as she trudged through the dirt, wandering further away from the land of skyscrapers and street lamps that had once been her world.
Only a hundred or so feet away, another figure hastily propelled down the tumbling mountainside as fast as she could, descending further past the golden green trees and cliffs. She grumbled to herself, cursing her broken arm for getting in her way. Honey had always hated her name, the first thing she vowed to change once she reached the city. Glancing back at the snow covered mountain top she had come from, a smile snuck onto her face knowing that even if they were following her, they’d never be able to catch her now. Although she despised the years she had wasted up in the cold, she could not say they had been entirely useless. Although she likely would never again need to know how to identify signs of avalanche in the snowpack, or scare off a hungry bear, in this moment as she looked up at the looming clouds she knew for certain it was about to rain, hard. She pondered for a moment if she could continue down the mountain in the rain, before deciding against it. “I’m not going through 23 years just to trip and die.” As the first few drops fell she looked around for a tree with leaves thick enough to shield her from the elements for the next few hours.
Skidding to a stop underneath the loftiest tree in sight, the light shower turning quickly into a downpour, she heard the sound of heavy, frantic strides trudging towards her. Emerging from the foliage appeared an auburn haired woman, a hulking backpack strapped to her. “Hey,” Honey shouted through the rain. “Hi,” Caramel replied, breathless, “mind if I join you under the tree?” Honey nodded, and the two now stood side by side, Caramel laying down their backpack on the dirt. A moment of peculiar quiet passed between the two women, both catching their breath, not having expected to meet another soul on their trek, though perhaps there was no better time for company than now. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a pretty name. What happened to your arm?”
Honey scoffed. “So what the hell brings you here?” Honey pried, curious about the sweaty twig she would likely spend the next few hours with. “Funny story.” Caramel responded, similarly curious about the raggedly dressed woman beside her. “Same here.” They met halfway down the mountain, beneath rain and Aspen trees. One going up, one going down, they sat together under the chartreuse painted leaves, waiting for the spring storm to pass. With no other way to pass their time than in conversation, they began to tell their separate stories, on their lives and how they came to be at that very point halfway up the mountain.
“You go first. You’re on my mountain y’know,” Honey asserted. Caramel paused for a moment. “Your mountain? This is your mountain?” “If all goes to plan, not for much longer.” Caramel pondered those words for a moment. “Alright, sure. I’ll go first.” Caramel was born in the bustling city below, parked a few miles away from the towering mountains. Lived there her whole 23 year life, she explained. A booming and busy city, famous for its towering high skyscrapers and crowded streets. Caramel worked a basic job at the grocery store, serving the hordes of people that came every day. She watched the stern face on the stranger before her soften slightly, her eyes twinkling with a subtle fascination that confused her. Underneath those eyes, Honey was indeed fascinated. The idea of a city full of people and technology was about as wondrous to her as magic itself. “I came up here to escape I suppose,” said Caramel. “Run away from it all. Escape the monotonous chaos of that filthy place.” “Really? I could do with some more chaos in my life,” remarked Honey. Caramel laughed, a dry laugh.
“I take it you’re not from around here then?”
“Wouldn’t say that. Just, not from the city is all. What’s so bad about it that you’d run away?”
Caramel sighed, a melancholy smile trickling onto her face. “It’s complicated I suppose.”
“Trust me we have plenty of time.” Honey looked up at the ash gray storm clouds surrounding them. “Alright then. You first though. Where exactly are you from?” Honey chuckled a bit at the question. “You really want to know, huh? Alright.”
Honey found the company amusing at the least. Her reaction of intrigued shock at the very least was something she’d remember. Honey’s family had lived atop the mountains for as long as anyone could remember. While she heard faint rumors of the world below, her whole life she never strayed from the snow-covered peaks, though not for a lack of trying. “That’s incredible! You’ve lived here your whole life?” said Caramel. “Yep,” Honey replied, “though I wouldn’t say incredible. It gets pretty boring out here, lonely too. Not much to do up here but climb trees and wrestle bears or something.” Caramel laughed at the remark for a moment. “I’m sure it’s not that bad.” Honey’s face twisted slightly. “Trust me, you don’t know half of it.”
Caramel hadn’t always hated living on the mountain, but she certainly never liked it. It was clear from early on she was unlike the rest of those around her, the small community that called the mountain home. She possessed a sort of restless energy, the type that is taken as endearment and strength early on, but quickly becomes an “annoyance” with age. It became clear she had an innate desire, a need, for liveliness and freedom that was unavailable on the desolate peak, and that clashed against the nature of her parents. Honey smiled as she recalled the countless hours she spent running around the confined area of forest and snow she could play in when she was a child. Her parents had ordered her to stay within 100 feet of their wooden cabin at all times, though she always sought to go beyond just that, nor cared to remember where the boundary lines were in the first place. She laughed remembering how her father’s face turned red the first time she tried to run away when she was 6 years old. She didn’t make it very far, only a few dozen feet past the boundary, but it was enough to sate her desire for adventure for a few weeks, enough to at least somewhat dull the bloody pain of the discipline she received once they returned to the cabin.
Caramel was taken aback for a moment. “I’m so sorry! That sounds awful, I don’t know what to say.” Honey chuckled again. “Don’t be. You get used to it. Happened pretty regularly.” A moment of silence passed between them, the clatter of raindrops filling the void. “I’m just glad I’ll be rid of this place soon. Anywhere else but here.” Caramel smiled. “Even so, this place is beautiful! Aren’t you going to miss it, just a bit?” Honey’s face twisted further, her fuming expression slightly hidden by the looming darkness of the storm. Caramel winced. “You know, it isn’t safe under here. Why don’t we try and find a cave or something?” Honey let out a cruel laugh at the idea. “What? And go out into the pouring rain and fall down the mountain? Be my guest, I’d rather risk getting shocked by lightning.” Caramel sighed, and laid back against the trunk of the tree, the bark digging into her back slightly. “I don’t get it. Why the hell would you want to come up to this?” Caramel stared out at the flooding rainfall, the tree branches buckling under its force. “I just don’t get it.”
“Well, it certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s still nice in its own way.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? Look around us!”
Caramel paused for a moment, eyes closed, a warm smile on her face. “I guess it’s my turn to share now.”
“Alright. Let’s hear it.”
Caramel had a loud childhood, not because of herself but everything around her. The roaring of cars down the highway, the clatter of voices as she passed through the school halls, the blaring sounds from the TV at home. Her childhood was chaos, and entirely generic. Complaining about homework and nonsense rules in school, putting on acts to get by in the social tapestry of society just like everyone else around her. She didn’t have many memories of her school years, there wasn’t much to remember anyway. However, she remembered one thing vividly, a moment of calm through the chaos. It was a simple memory, the day was an average 7th grade Tuesday. She was sitting in science class, absentmindedly fiddling her fingers. The teacher was sick that day, and the sub who came in decided to play a nature documentary. Most of the class talked quietly among each other, completely uninterested by the display before them. For Caramel, it was the most magical thing she had ever seen. The dances of birds in a desperate bid for romance, the unbreakable friendships between the flowers and bees, to her it was more beautiful than any TV show could ever hope to be. She didn’t think much of it at the time, but every now and then she’d find herself impulse googling facts about birds, or watching short nature videos. It was a simple pleasure, but one nonetheless.
“...That’s it? You ran all the way out here, because of some stupid movie?” Honey looked at Caramel, stunned. Not shocked, just stunned at the insignificance of it. If her left arm wasn’t in a cast she would’ve put her head in her hands. “I wouldn’t say that’s the only reason but yeah, that’s what started it I suppose,” Honey replied simply.
“I just didn’t realize how thin skinned you are. Are you always this over dramatic?”
“You heard me. I pour my heart out, how I got beaten just for having some fun, and you tell me you ran out here because you thought it’d be cool?”
Caramel stood up, fists shaking and her face full of a combination of surprise and anger. “Excuse me?”
“Sounds like you had everything! A comfortable home, friends, all the entertainment you could ask for! Yet you still wanted more so you came out here? Just go back home! Not like you stand a chance anyway.”
Caramel exploded. “You don’t know what it’s like! 12 years of school, pretending to be someone else and cramming mindless garbage into your head all day? Then after that you’re still not done! Every day it's always the exact same thing. Wake up at 5:00, take the bus, start work at 6:00, leave at 3:00, go home, sleep. 5 days a week. And the other two days I’m too drained to do anything. You think your parents were bad? At least they paid any attention to you! All I get is a ‘how was your day’ and then nothing! At least you had the trees.” Caramel collapsed back to the floor, tears flowing down her face. There was silence for a moment, even the rain seemed to stop to let Caramel cry. “Am I so bad for just wanting something new?”
Honey sat there, stunned, not out of insignificance but of genuine surprise. She felt sorry for the shivering girl next to her. She wanted to comfort her, yet at the same time still failed to understand. In more ways than one she had never met anyone like Caramel. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s okay,” Caramel said, wiping away a tear, “I didn’t mean to blow up on you. It’s just, there’s more to it than a movie.”
Caramel sat back and sighed, relaxing once more. She’d never been able to talk to anyone about this before. Maybe it was because they were strangers, maybe it was because they felt so close despite having just met, but she felt comfortable next to Honey, more comfortable than anyone else. Honey talked about her childhood, the lonely neglect of being one in a herd of others more important and flashier than her. She remembered graduating high school, how it was promised to be a new frontier of freedom only to be pushed into a retail job, washing the floors and stacking boxes endlessly. The whole while Honey listened, not just because it was the only thing to do or out of a sarcastic curiosity, but genuinely wanting to understand her companion. She watched Caramel’s eyes light up as she got to the peak of her story, about the time she went hiking one day on a whim. She relished every word, every memory of the towering trees as she walked past, the glimpses of the birds and deer running in the distance, and the view of the glorious sun peeking through the leaves. It was a world so familiar to Honey, yet sounded so unknown. She wondered what life would have been like if they had been born in each other’s place. “And that’s it I suppose. One day I decided that I’d rather come out here and live than stay and do nothing for the rest of my life, so I just packed all my things and left, and now here I am.”
“I should’ve given you more credit,” Honey said.
“We’re alike in that way. Bored of life and wanting to go somewhere new. Trapped in a place that wasn’t meant for us, with people who didn’t care.”
“Wait, really? You think we’re alike now?”
Honey laughed, rolling her broken arm. “I guess it’s my turn for story time now.”
Caramel sat up and smiled. “I’d love to listen.”
Honey didn’t know where to start, so she began where it felt easiest. She remembered how a few days ago she had been bored, climbing higher and higher up a tree, when the branch beneath her broke and they fell. Her arm made a cracking noise as she hit the dirt, twisting the opposite way it was supposed to. Embarrassing and infuriating at the time, but she supposed if it hadn’t happened she wouldn’t be there now. For the first time in 23 years, Honey’s parents had no choice but to descend the mountain to the city, get in their rickety old car and drive down the unyielding road. Neither of them were equipped to deal with an injury that bad. Honey was still dazed by the time her arm had been casted and wrapped up. But she remembered looking out the car window as they began the long drive home. She saw the dazzling lights, the spectacle, swaths of people laughing and running about, people Honey could only have dreamed of before. She saw lines of people gathered before food trucks, couples taking a late evening stroll through the park, a cat running down the street. So the next night, when her parents were asleep she ran. She knew they wouldn’t be asleep for long, but she ran as fast as she could and now here she was, in the middle of the road. In the end she wasn’t so different from Caramel.
“I know it’s stupid, but I don’t know. Something about the city. You said it’s dull and all that, but I’ve never seen anything like it. I guess it sounds childish, but it looked like a fairy tale to me.”
Caramel laughed for a moment, “I don’t think it’s stupid at all!”
“You’re just like me. We both just wanted something new.”
The two shared a smile as they continued their talk, the rain continuing to pour. They shared stories about their lives, about the things they did, the people they knew. They cracked jokes and sang simple songs. Though it continued to pour around them, they all but forgot about the rain that had forced them together. It had fallen well into the afternoon by the time their conversation ended. “I guess this is goodbye then. Maybe our roads will cross again someday,” Caramel pondered. “One day,” promised Honey. As the last drop of dew fell to the dirt, the two parted ways, one going up and one going down. That exchange of heart would not be one that either would forget. Hours passed as they continued down their paths, the rough mountain side turning to asphalt road as Honey traveled her path, the dazzling lights of the city coming into full view, and the muddy landscape becoming coated with snow and open fields as Caramel neared her destination. And as she looked towards the caramel clouds and honey tinted sky, she knew she was finally home.