I shook my head. “You don’t have to tell me.”
He looked up at me from under his brow, angry. “Didn’t you hear me? I lied to you.”
“No, you were protecting your brother.”
Tyler looked up at me from under his brow. “And now I’m protecting you.”
All but Taylor and Tyler were gone when I woke. After fourteen days on the mountain, the crew had woken up to their R & R and scattered. For two days, they would travel to any friends or family who were close, going into town to hit a bar or an outfitter or to a mom-and-pop café to eat real food.
I rubbed my eyes, squinting at Tyler as he sat on my bed, his elbows resting on his knees. He was wearing a pair of red basketball shorts, a white tee, and a navy blue baseball hat. By his attire and bare feet, it was obvious he wasn’t planning on going anywhere, but he was miles away. His twin was wearing boots, cargo pants, and an Alpine tee, a duffel bag at his feet.
Taylor was leaning against the large wooden square that held the few things I’d brought with me to the dormitory. He was frowning, his arms crossed.
“After R & R, we’re going to Colorado Springs to join a crew to work on a fire down there.”
Tyler shook his head. “I’m waiting on the Aussies to get here, and then we’ll drive down. It’s better that Taylor goes first, anyway.”
He glanced over at me before looking down. “Taylor’s a better liar than I am.”
“The federal agent is going to be down there,” I said. It wasn’t a question; I knew the answer.
Taylor nodded. “I’m going to answer all his damn questions—again—and hopefully he’ll leave Tyler alone.”
“Because Tyler was the one who spoke to Travis.”
I frowned. Without having met them, it was hard to keep the brothers straight. “Which one is he again?”
For some reason, that brought a smile to Tyler’s face. “Second youngest.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “The tattoo artist. It makes sense why you’re both covered.”
“We all are,” Taylor said. “Except Thomas. I have to get on the road. I’m going to try to get there first. Maybe get Trexler’s third degree out of the way before we go back to work.”
“Something seemed … off about him,” I said. “Watch yourself.”
Taylor winked at me. “I got this, Ellie. Don’t worry about me. Ever since I found out we were going to Colorado Springs … I dunno. I’ve had a good feeling about it.”
“You just like that damned cowboy bar down there,” Tyler said.
Taylor arched an eyebrow. “Colorado Springs has a considerably higher percentage of attractive women, and most of them hang out at that bar.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “They’re looking for fly boys. The Air Force base is there.”
“Yes, but it’s me we’re talking about,” Taylor said, pushing off from my armoire. He bent down to grab his duffel bag, and then slung the strap over his shoulder. “I’m out, dick head.”
Tyler stood up, hugging his brother. It wasn’t a side hug or a hand-shake-slash-shoulder-bump. Taylor and Tyler wrapped their arms around each other and squeezed. The customary hard slapping on the back followed, but they were a sweet sight.
Taylor’s keys jingled in his hand as he rounded the corner. The front door opened and slammed, and Tyler sighed.
He sat down on my bed again, leaning over and lacing his fingers together. “It’s kind of a pussy thing to say, but Taylor and I haven’t been apart a lot. It feels weird.”
“I’m just glad he’s not going to Australia with Jew.”
“Yeah, we switch out. A couple of our guys go over there for a season to learn their way of doing things, and we get a couple of their guys to see how we do it.”
“So those are the Aussies we’re waiting on? Isn’t that going to mess with your groove or whatever to get two new guys?”
“The Aussies are machines. They always come here to work. We’re dragging ass to headquarters, and they’re antsy, wishing for the next call. What?”
“You should have told me. One minute I’m the big sister making grilled cheese, the next I’m left out of the loop.”
Tyler thought about that. “Wow, I’m sorry. You just fit in so well I forget you don’t already know this stuff.”
“I suppose I can forgive you.” I sat up, running my hand over my face. “Oh my God.”
“My mouth. It tastes like a trashcan.” I stood, opening the armoire to grab my toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste before rushing to the bathroom. After spitting the suds into the sink, I rinsed and grabbed a towel. My sinuses felt congested, so I grabbed a tissue.
“Oh my God!” I said again.
Tyler jogged across the barracks, stopping in the doorway. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m dying,” I said, blowing my nose again. “My insides are rotting.”
He chuckled. “That’s normal. When fire season is over, you’ll still be doing that for weeks. It’s from the smoke and ash.”
“But I’m not whining about the hazards of inhaling wood smoke. We’re sucking a lot worse every time we light up.”
“But I don’t blow charcoal out of my nose after I smoke.”
“Good. Are we going into town or what?”
I shook my head and shifted, holding up one foot off the cold floor. “I can’t right now. I have to get my notes emailed to Jojo.”
“I don’t know why you don’t just write it yourself. She used most of your manuscript for the magazine. She didn’t even credit herself.”
I smiled, filling my hand with water and rinsing out the sink. “That was pretty cool. I thought it was crap, but she cleaned it up a little bit and called it good.”
“Chief said he’s gotten a lot of phone calls about the story. The brass like the positive press it’s brought to the crew.”
“It didn’t get picked up by the AP like Wick had hoped.”
“Yet,” Tyler said as I turned off the faucet. “So you’re going to work?”
“Nah, I’ll wait. It’s kinda nice being alone with you.”
I fetched my laptop, and then sat with Tyler in the TV room. He lifted the remote and turned on the television, keeping the volume down while I typed. The process was a bit easier this time, matching numbered photos to corresponding accounts.