Tree Line - Chapter Twenty-Four

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Chapter Twenty-Four

“No, no, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s not right,” Nate argued. His head shook left and right, the movements fast, exaggerated, like he were arguing with something more than just the man standing in front of him.

The wind had started to pick up again, blowing fast through the camp, causing Dave’s tent to shake and quiver behind where the two men stood. Neither of them seemed to notice, however, the intensity of their argument blocking out everything else.

“Nate, I’m sorry, but no matter how many times we go over it, it’s not going to change what happened,” Dave explained. He had tried to stay calm, tried to hold his tongue, and out of respect for the younger DeWitt boy and his emotional state, he had pushed each of his words slowly through a sieve of careful patience. “You have to understand, I tried to reason with him. I tried to bring him back with us, but he wouldn’t leave Angela behind.”

“But you would?” Nate shot back. He stopped shaking his head but kept his eyes directly on Dave, his tone sharp, direct. He pointed a finger into Dave’s chest, hard enough the larger man felt it through his thick coat and layered shirts. “You were fine leaving her behind! You were fine leaving her to die on her own and you’re telling me that my brother was the only person who tried to help her. That’s what you’re saying? Chase was the only person who cared enough to try to help? Is that right?”

Dave shook his head, slowly, trying to weigh what his response should be, trying to ignore the finger that Nate pushed into his chest. He turned his face away, searched his mind to try to find an answer that might dispel some of the anger that was bubbling up in Nate, but exhaustion had left his mind empty. There was nothing he could offer to the younger brother.

“I guess,” he finally said, knowing it wasn’t what he should say. He tried to explain himself, adding, “Things got complicated pretty fast down there, Nate. I wish I could explain it in a way that would make sense, but everything spun out of control faster than we could adapt to it.”

He reached up and scratched at his chin, parting his short whiskers with his long, ragged fingernails, glad he was finally free from his face mask, even more glad to be home. The tiny scratching motion released the smell of the bleach that he had liberally used to clean himself, filling his nostrils with the sharp, powerful, unmistakable tang of it. The smell hung on him, thick in his hair and spread over his clothes in long, wet splashes, an itchy layer that left him feeling like his skin was shrinking around him, constricting over his muscles and bones.

“It wasn’t what I wanted,” he finally explained. Nate’s expression didn’t soften, didn’t shift, even as Dave pleaded his case to the younger man. “It wasn’t what any of us wanted, Nate. I’m sorry. I really am, but it was a choice that Chase made for himself.”

Nate didn’t respond. He just stood still, not even a yard away, glaring at the older man, their eyes locked. At that moment, Dave could see Nate’s older brother in his eyes, the same defiance, the same, unquestioning strength that Chase had when he challenged Dave in the aspen grove the night before. Dave towered over everyone in the camp, Nathan included, having a good eighty pounds of muscle on the young man, but Nate didn’t seem to care, didn’t seem to even notice it.

“I should kill you for what you did,” Nate whispered, finally breaking their shared gaze, looking away. The younger man’s bunched shoulders dropped for a moment, his anger leaking away when his eyes found other places to focus.

“What did you say to me?” Dave asked. He could feel his own posture tightening, his shoulders going rigid, ready. He was sure of what he had heard, but he didn’t want to be sure, wanted to be wrong.

“You heard me,” Nate spit as he began to walk away, his boots smashing down the snow, flattening it as he moved back towards Owen’s tent.

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