I stepped in front of the long line of sinks and mirrors, snuggled in my robe—the only thing I had packed that reminded me of the luxuries of home. I scrubbed my hair with the towel, feeling a little more human. Sometimes we would have access to a tractor-trailer full of shower stalls, but when we were too deep in the mountains for the trucks to reach, it was living dirty or bathing in a pond, river, or waterfall. At fire camp, I was a different person, ignoring the dirt and sweat on my body and the grease in my hair. Once, Tyler had taken me down to a waterfall to rinse off, but the water was freezing. For me, at least, being dirty for a few more days was preferable to the sting of just-melted snow that didn’t warm, even at the height of summer.
He leaned against the wooden frame, crossing his arms. “You are grossly underestimating yourself.”
“What?” I said, rubbing moisturizer on my face. Spending so much time in the dry mountain air, my skin felt like sandpaper. It didn’t help that I’d forgotten my sunscreen one day, and my nose was beginning to peel.
“Nothing,” he said. “I meant what I said earlier. If you need a place, one way or another, we can make it work.”
“We can’t live together, Tyler. We’ve already got this weird friends-with-benefits thing going on…”
“And it would make things really complicated. Look at you. You’re standing outside the bathroom door so the guys don’t walk by.”
“You’re jealous. They like messing with you when it comes to me. Everyone knows—”
“That something is going on between us.” He smiled, his dimple sinking deep into his cheek. I narrowed my eyes. “Stop smiling.”
I wet my toothbrush, squeezed out a dot of paste on the bristles, and then wet it again before scrubbing my teeth.
“Do what?” I said, my mouth full of suds.
I rolled my eyes. “We must be soul mates.”
I bent over and spit in the sink, and then Tyler grabbed me, sealing his lips onto mine. When I pushed him away, he had a circle of toothpaste around his mouth.
“What are you doing, Tyler? Gross!”
He wiped the toothpaste from his mouth and licked his finger, winking at me. “I kind of miss you.”
I stood next to the sink, the water running, watching Tyler turn the corner, a bounce in his step. I shook my head, wondering what the hell had gotten into him. Since I’d been at headquarters, he had been professional. No late-night sneaking around, no ass grabs or even a stolen kiss—until now.
I looked in the mirror at my sunken cheeks and the happiness in my eyes. A giddy feeling swirled in my stomach, different from the tingling I usually felt when Tyler was around. The summer was flying by. He was talking about sharing an apartment, but reality was different in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and seeing the same twenty people every day. I wasn’t sure if Tyler would feel the same when fire season was over.
I changed into a pair of flannel pajama pants, sweatshirt, and fuzzy socks, and then stepped out into the TV room. Nineteen hotshots were standing behind the sofa, listening to Tyler talk to a stranger in a dark suit and tie. The man was sitting on one of the recliners with a notepad and pen.
“So, you haven’t spoken to your brother about the fire?” the man said.
“I mean, yeah,” Tyler answered. “I’m an alumnus of Eastern. He’s a student. We belong to the same fraternity, and we lost brothers in that fire.”
“But you’re sure he wasn’t there,” the man said. “I would like to remind you that I’m a federal agent, and it’s imperative that you’re honest.”
“He already gave you an answer, Agent Trexler,” Taylor said, his voice firm.
I swallowed. Tyler had gotten the phone call about the fire back in March. I wondered why they were just now questioning him.
The agent looked up at Taylor. “Did he speak to you about it?”
“No,” Taylor said. “I heard about it from Tyler.”
Trexler pointed his pen at the twin on the sofa. “And you’re Tyler.”
Trexler looked down at his notepad. “It’s interesting that you’re a…”
Trexler suppressed a grin. “Your father is under the impression that you’re an insurance agent. Were you? An insurance agent?”
“Why does your father think that you are?”
Taylor shifted his weight from one foot to the other, tightening his grip on his arms. I could see his biceps tensing.
“Our mother died when we were kids,” Tyler said. “It would upset our dad if he knew what we did.”
“So,” the agent said, “do you think it’s a safe assumption that he wouldn’t be aware that Travis fought in an underground fight ring for the purposes of illegal gambling on his college campus?”
“Travis wasn’t at the fire,” Tyler said, his expression blank.
“Is that all you need, agent? These boys just came off almost two weeks on the mountain. They need to rest.” Sage said, his red beard twitching when he spoke.
Agent Trexler scanned each face of the hotshot crew, and then nodded. “Sure. I’ll be contacting your superintendent to let him know I’ll need open communication. This is an active investigation, and your brother is a person of interest. Your cooperation will be the best thing you can do for Travis now.”
After Trexler left, and his truck could be heard driving away from headquarters, Taylor and Tyler’s crew patted them on the backs, offering their silent support.
I stood back, watching the twins engage in an intense conversation in the corner. Taylor walked off with his hands on his hips, and then returned to his brother, shaking his head. The rest of the crew crowded around the table, resuming their card game. They were Taylor and Tyler’s family, too, but they knew the twins needed to figure out their other family at home.
Taylor retreated to the barracks, and Tyler glanced at me before looking down. I’d seen that look before, many times, mostly in the mirror. He was ashamed.
I padded across the room, stopping just a few feet from him. “What can I do?”
He frowned, trying to focus on the floor.
“Okay,” I said. “You don’t have to tell me. I can … you know … just be around.”
He nodded, keeping his eyes on the carpet. I backed away, settling into the corner of the sofa closest to the wall. I pulled a knit throw over my lap and sat quietly. Tyler crossed the room, sitting on his knees at my feet.
I ran my hand over his buzzed hair, pausing on the back of his neck.
“I lied to you,” he whispered. “But if I tell you the truth, you’ll be dragged into this mess.”