“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
“Don’t quote Monty Python to me right now. I’m mad at you.”
He snorts a laugh. “No, you’re not. You’re just grouchy because you’re in pain.”
“I’m grouchy because you led me into an evil serpent’s nest!”
“Snakes get a bad rap,” he says. “They only attack when they’re scared or hungry. We’re monsters in their eyes. And that snake that bit you shouldn’t have been in that cave. The temperature is too low for a kingsnake. I’m thinking it must have gotten lost in there somehow. I hope it finds its way out.”
“As long as it’s not through some tiny crack in the walls here. This is our cave, you hear me, snake?” I call out. “I wonder how this cave formed. You know, thousands of years ago, or whatever.”
“I don’t know, but it reminds me of The Enigma of Amigara Fault.”
“Well, Miss Everhart, I’m glad you asked,” he says, jolly. “See, it’s this Japanese horror manga story—”
“Oh, lord,” I grumble.
“—in which thousands of human-shaped holes appear in the side of a mountain after an earthquake. People soon discover that there’s a perfect hole for each person, made just for them, and when they find their own hole, they become crazed, trying to climb inside of it.”
“That sounds . . . weird. What happens when they get inside?”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
I shake my head. “I really, really don’t. No more creepy stories. Especially if we have to sleep here tonight.”
He chuckles. “My work here is done. And yes, I think we should definitely stay here tonight. So I’m declaring that the official new plan. Agreed?”
“All right.” I lean back on my palms as he finishes cleaning my wound. It’s pretty swollen, I think. He says it will be fine by tomorrow. He finds a couple of Band-Aids to keep the puncture marks covered, so they won’t get infected.
“We’re not, by the way,” he says quietly, pulling the paper backing off a bandage.
“Jovana and I aren’t dating. We broke up before summer break. Well, she broke up with me.”
This is unexpected, his bringing this back up now. I’m also a little embarrassed about how relieved I am to know it. “I’m sorry,” I tell him. “I mean, if you were upset.”
What a stupid thing to say. Of course he—
“I wasn’t,” he says, surprising me. His eyes are on my ankle as he adheres the bandage. “It was cool at first, me and Jovana. But we never really . . . clicked. I tried. I really did. It just felt like something was missing. She said I was distant and distracted, and that I was hung up on someone else.”
My heart thumps rapidly inside my chest. “Were you?”
I hold my breath, unsure of what this means. Part of me would like to pass him a note that reads Do you like me? Check YES or NO. But I’m too much of a coward to say it aloud. Too afraid that he’ll laugh. And then it will be awkward between us for the rest of the trip.
“Were you and Andre serious?” he asks.
It takes me a long time to answer. “I was hung up on someone else.”
It takes him an even longer time to say, “Are you still?”
Does he know it’s him? Or does he think it’s Brett? I can’t tell if he’s just curious about my personal life, trying to make idle conversation. Being polite. I can’t tell anything from his blank expression and monotone rumble. Whether he’s talking to me strictly friend to friend, like when he had a crush on Yolanda Harris when we were fourteen, and I had to endure his ramblings about how cool she was, and would I help him talk to her?
But there’s that hope again, poking its head up when I don’t want it to.
But I don’t. And he doesn’t. He just packs up the remnants of the bandage paper and stands up. “Don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Let’s make camp.”
He spends the next half hour assembling both of our tents inside the cave while I find a place for our bear canisters outside, and farther around the cliff, find a few hidden places behind shrubs appropriate for an outdoor toilet. The cliff is narrow, but it’s long—miles long—and now that I see the distance with my own eyes, I’m thankful we’re not hiking it, because my ankle is starting to complain.
I find a few pieces of dry wood and carry them back to the cave. Lennon has set up our tents side by side, and he’s pulling out these twist-top LED lights that fit in the palm of his hand. He shows me how to use the light’s handle on top to hook it to a loop on the ceiling of my tent. The tiny lanterns thoroughly illuminate the insides of our tents, which makes me feel better about the encroaching darkness as twilight falls.
While I unroll my sleeping bag and dig through my pack, Lennon gathers more wood and kindling. He finds some small rocks and uses them to ring the old fire pit, to ensure that the fire stays contained. Then he teaches me how to set up his pyramid-shaped fire, which seems complex, because he has a million little rules about the tinder and how thick the wood should be. But I like that he’s so detailed and precise. I do the honors of lighting the tinder, and after a couple false starts—it needs more oxygen—I finally get the campfire going. Which feels . . . satisfying.
Once the wood settles into place, Lennon sets up his little portable grill and pan over the flames and we carefully measure out the exact amount of water we’ll need to rehydrate a couple freeze-dried meals. I’ve never been so excited about beef Stroganoff. Scratch that, I’ve never been excited whatsoever about beef Stroganoff, but when we pour the boiling water into the pouches, it smells amazing.
We don’t have any big boulders to sit on like we did back at the waterfall, so we spread out the rainflies from our tents on the ground near the fire and utilize our bear barrels as tables. And when we’re done eating, we use a wet wipe to clean our sporks in order to conserve water. Lennon adds more wood to the fire and we sit and watch the sunset. Stars are already visible, and I’m so glad Lennon suggested we stay here.
“How does it feel now?” he asks, glancing at my leg, which is stretched out in front of me. It’s hard to get comfortable on the ground.
“Still swollen. And sore,” I say.
He waves my foot toward his lap. “Put it up here and let me look at it.”
Hesitant, I prop the heel of my shoe on his thigh, and he inspects the bandages on my ankle. “I think it’s going to be fine. Just leave it here,” he says, stopping me from moving away with a gentle hand on my knee. “Keeping it elevated will help with the swelling.”
“Or force germy snake saliva to make its way up into my bloodstream.”
“That’s already happened.”
“Actually, that’s the biggest worry with nonvenomous bites. Bad bacteria. You don’t know when his last meal was, and he could have chowed down on something rotten or diseased.”
“Are you trying to freak me out?”
He smiles. “Sort of. I like watching your face twist into horrified expressions. Everything shows on your face. You know that, right?”
“That’s not true.”