The twins reached a fork in the gravel road before they agreed on which direction to go. One direction was paved, the other in the same shape as the road they’d been walking down all day.
Andrew stopped, looked to his brother, and nodded down the paved road.
Parker shook his head, looked to the right where the gravel road led, and said, “I think I’ll stick with this one.”
Parker offered a weak smile and a shrug.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Andrew. “We’ve got no idea where that road leads.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t know where that one goes either.”
“It goes somewhere,” said Andrew. “They wouldn’t pave it if it didn’t go somewhere.”
“And they wouldn’t make this one if it didn’t go somewhere too,” said Parker as he held out an open palm in the direction of the gravel road.
Both roads stretched to the edge of the flat horizon, curtained by tall, billowing grass that was more brown than green, and growing more golden by the minute as the late day sun inched towards night. Wisps of clouds like white cotton stretched until it was nearly transparent, marring the otherwise pale blue of aging daylight.
“We need to go somewhere safe,” said Andrew.
“I’m not worried.”
“You should be,” said Andrew. “The world doesn’t care about you. I’m not trying to be harsh, just honest. The world couldn’t give two shits if you make it or not. It’ll watch you die and forget you were ever here to begin with. At least if we go this way, down the paved road, we’ll know we’re headed somewhere other people want to be. Down that way…” he motioned down the gravel road. “Parker, who the fuck knows what’s down there?”
“I can always come back.” Parker tried to ease his twin’s concern. “If things don’t go well for me down that road, then I can make my way back here and go that way.”
“It’s too late for that,” said Andrew. “The sun’s going down. We’ve been walking all day. Come on, man. Let’s go the way they want us to.”
“Who’s they?” asked Parker.
“I don’t know. They, them. The fucking people who paved the road because they knew there was stuff that way that people wanted to get to.” He tried to pull at his brother’s shirt to get him to go down the paved road. Parker resisted and stayed on the gravel road as his twin stepped up onto the smooth pavement. “Come on, Park. No more fucking around. Let’s go before we’re caught in the dark.”
“I’m not going that way,” said Parker.
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because that way gets us to where they want us to be, and I don’t want to go where they want me to go.”
Parker laughed, “The same ‘They’ you were talking about. The same ‘They’ who paved that road. The same ‘They’ who looked at a wide open landscape and decided to carve a path for everyone to follow. Step by step, down the paved road. I’ve been thinking about it all day. Even this road,” Parker kicked stones off the path and into the grass. “Someone built this road too. Someone carved a path.”
“They carved a path to help us find our way,” said Andrew. “That’s what paths and roads are for. People come before us and clear the way. They figure out the best road, and then make it easier for the people coming after them.”
“But you’ve got to trust they were headed in the right direction in the first place,” said Parker. “And I’m not so sure. Way I see it, I could go straight that way and make it somewhere.” He pointed straight ahead, out into the field of grass.
“You’re kidding, right?” asked Andrew.
Parker shook his head. “Nope. This is the most serious I’ve been all day.”
Andrew crossed his arms took a deep breath. “World’s going to eat you alive if you go your own way. People don’t like that sort of thing.”
“Every path starts somewhere,” said Parker. “Someone has to start it.”
“You’re no adventurer,” said Andrew. “What’re you, like, fucking Lewis and Clark all of the sudden?”
“I’ll be Lewis if you’ll be Clark,” said Parker.
“Fuck that,” said Andrew. “If you go traipsing off on your own through the grass you’ll be going alone.”
“You’d leave me?”
“You’re the one leaving me,” said Andrew, annoyed. “I’m walking down this perfectly fine road, headed to someplace perfectly safe and perfectly fucking normal. You’re going to go get yourself killed and I’m not going to think twice about it.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” said Parker.
Andrew kept his arms crossed, straightened his posture, and looked away.
“You’re really going to let me go alone?”
“Damn straight,” said Andrew.
“All right then, see you when I see you,” said Parker as he started to walk towards the grass.
Andrew grabbed the back of his shirt to pull him back. “This is the last… Parker, listen to me. This is it. This is the last warning. Okay? Listen to me. I know you’ve got this grand goddamn idea about yourself, like you’re some sort of… I don’t know. Some sort of explorer or something, but you’re not. You’re just like me. You’re a regular fucking dude. Okay? Nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with being a regular fucking dude with a regular fucking life and a goddamn roof over their head and a comfy bed to sleep in. That’s what’s down that way,” he pointed down the paved road. “Let’s go. I’m not sure exactly where that road leads, but I’ve got a pretty damn good idea. It’s someplace nicer than whatever the hell’s waiting for you out in the grass.
“Maybe,” said Parker. “But maybe what’s down that way isn’t for me. No, man. Not maybe. That way’s for you. Okay? It makes sense. It’s safe, and I know that’s what you’re about. Nothing wrong with it. You can go down that road and end up somewhere really nice, but it’s not someplace I want to be. Does that make sense?”
“No,” said Andrew, and he let out a quick, exasperated laugh. “No it sure the fuck doesn’t.”
“Well, it makes sense to me,” said Parker. “I don’t want what’s at the end of that road.”
“You want that,” said Andrew as he motioned to the grass.
“Maybe,” said Parker. “I don’t know what’s out there. I’d like to find out.”
“Even if it’s dangerous to go off the path?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Parker. “I don’t want to get hurt.”
“If you go off through there you’re going to get hurt, I guarantee it.”
“Then so be it,” said Parker. “All I know is that if I go down the paved road I’ll never be happy. Not really. I might have happy moments here and there, but I’ll always wonder what would’ve happened if I threw caution to the wind and walked off into the grass.”
Andrew closed his eyes, defeated. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“We’ve been going through life just getting by. Day to day, never stepping off the path they made for us. Just walking along, hoping we’re headed the right way.”
“But diving off the path entirely seems really, really fucking dumb,” said Andrew.
“How about a compromise,” said Parker.
“If you come with me down this way,” Parker pointed down the gravel road that forked off to the right, “I’ll stay on the path.”
“It’s rocky,” said Andrew. “I’m so damn sick of these rocky ass, piece of shit gravel roads. My feet hurt. I want to walk on the pavement. I want to have a sense that I know where I’m going, and that there’s something good at the end of the road.”
“And I want to go off the road into the grass, but I’ll stay on the path as long as you’re with me.” Parker looked at his brother in silence for a while, and then held out his hand. “Deal?”
“Fine,” Andrew relented. They shook hands, and headed down the uneven, rocky road together as the sun set behind them. They both knew they’d never make it back before nightfall. This was now their path, and all the other Parkers and Andrews would follow behind, each coming to the crossroads and stopping for a moment to have the same discussion.
Eventually, one of those Parkers would choose the grass, and a dent would begin to form in the grass from his footsteps. Others would follow. Then, one day there’d be three roads, and then four, and so it would go, as does all things.