“We’ll check it out,” the ranger said as he took out a small notepad and started scribbling in it.
Zane leaned forward, his hands braced on the bench. “How far are we from the trailhead?”
“’Bout fifteen miles, as the crow flies,” the ranger said.
“Means we’ve probably walked fifty,” Deuce muttered. His legs were extended out in front of him in a mirror of Zane’s.
“We’re heading over to the nearest pass,” Earl told the ranger.
“We’ve had some reports of missing hikers. Searchers ain’t found no sign; it’s too wet, and the cold doesn’t help,” the ranger told him, trying to impress upon them the danger. Earl nodded again.
“Missing hikers?” Zane asked Deuce.
“Yeah, happens sometimes. Usually kids running off and being stupid,” Deuce said wryly. “But sometimes a through-hiker has an accident.”
“Someone like John,” Zane said.
Deuce nodded. “More often rookies, though. Or day hikers. People like John got enough experience to know the dangers and how to avoid them.”
“Like snakes,” Zane muttered, looking back over at where the ranger, Earl, and Ty were still talking.
“Don’t worry, Zane,” Deuce said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Like Grandpa said, it’s too cold for snakes right now.”
Zane resisted the urge to growl and instead stood up and stretched.
“We’re going to refill our water and head out,” Ty said as he walked over.
“Any more storms coming?” Zane asked.
“Ranger says no. It’s supposed to be clear for the next few days.”
Zane must have growled that time, because Ty gave him an amused look. “Man up, Garrett.”
“Yeah. Sure,” Zane muttered.
“Y’all be careful,” the ranger said again, obviously not happy that they were planning to continue on. “The storm knocked out some lines and comm towers we got up there. Got no reception at all in some places. Other places it’s pretty sketchy.”
Ty pulled up short and turned to look at his father, raising his eyebrows in question. Earl pursed his lips, looking from Ty to the ranger again. “How’s the shape of the trail?” he asked.
“It’s intact, to our knowledge. Don’t know what that storm did last night. There’s some flooding around, swollen rivers and mudslides.”
“Maybe we’ll find buried treasure in one of them,” Ty muttered under his breath. Earl looked around at them, his gaze settling on Zane doubtfully. His eyes flickered to Ty again. Ty shrugged. “I think we’re good to go,” he offered carelessly. “We’re not climbing or anything,” he pointed out.
Earl nodded. “Thanks for the updates,” he said to the ranger, shaking the man’s hand.
As they turned to go, the ranger called out to them. “Keep an eye out for snakes,” he advised. “We don’t know why, but they’re still out and they’re not happy. We think something’s driving ’em down the mountain lately. Been lots of rattlers around.”
Earl turned and smiled slightly, nodding his thanks before he walked out.
Ty made a disbelieving sound, shaking his head. “Snakes,” he said to Zane derisively as he passed by, snickering as he stepped through the door.
Zane just stared at him for a moment before wiping his hand over his face and following him across the dirt clearing.
He stood at the water spigot where Ty was refilling the canteens for a few minutes, watching Earl and Deuce check their packs, seeing if there were any critical supplies they might be able to get from the ranger. So Zane had at least a few quiet minutes with Ty to broach a question that had been bothering him.
“Earl doesn’t think I should be here, does he?” Okay, it wasn’t much of a question, but it got his point across.
Ty looked up at him in surprise, jerking just enough to get his hand wet and splash water over his boots. “Damnit,” he muttered as he looked back down to reposition the canteen. “Why do you say that?” he asked Zane, looking up at him again.
“Could be that somewhat doubtful look on his face every time he looks at me,” Zane murmured.
Ty snorted and gave Zane a raspberry. “He looks at everybody like that.”
“He stated quite clearly that the military would have toughened me up,” Zane added.
Ty turned off the water and straightened to his full height, frowning at Zane as he screwed the cap onto the canteen. “Yeah, that sounds like him,” he said finally. “He’s not trying to be malicious,” he told Zane softly. “It’s just the way he is.”
Zane wasn’t exactly sure about that. “It’s a hell of a contrast to his friendly greeting when we met.”
“How’s that?” Ty asked in confusion.
“I don’t know,” Zane murmured. “I just didn’t like the implication that I’m not good enough to watch out for you.” He took the full canteen and handed Ty an empty one.
Ty took it automatically and went about filling it as well. “I don’t know what to tell you, Zane,” he said as he watched the water. “He gives me the same looks he’s giving you,” he said without looking up.
Zane frowned. “What? Why?”
Ty shook his head. “I told you, that’s just the way he is,” he repeated, sounding a little irritated. “He doesn’t mean any harm by it, but until you prove yourself to him, he’s going to look at you like you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”
“That’s a good way to describe it,” Zane muttered. Then he straightened. “Are you saying he still expects you to prove to him that you know what you’re doing?” he asked in a hushed but clipped voice.
Ty shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably and stopped the water again, standing up to fasten the cap on the canteen he held.
“Ty?” Zane said softly, now feeling some real concern. And it wasn’t for himself.
Ty met his eyes for a moment, either trying to think of an answer or a way to avoid any more of the conversation. “Don’t let it get to you,” he finally advised as he handed the full canteen to Zane and took another empty one from him. Zane reached out and closed his hand loosely around Ty’s wrist; Ty looked at Zane with a raised eyebrow. “What?” he asked as he gave his hand a tug.
“Do you follow your own advice?”