Things had gotten weird since everyone agreed they wouldn’t kill Bass. Right now, Tom Neville was actually helping Miles come up with The New Plan. Rachel was there to supervise. Everyone else was left to their own devices, which Charlie knew would be awkward; men could never hide their feelings for long—especially young men.
Bass sat by the stream and watched as his son and Neville’s son bonded. Charlie walked up carrying two apples; she joined him and tossed one into his hand.
“Babysitting?” she asked.
He bit into the juicy green fruit and nodded at the two younger men. “They’re noodling for fish in the stream. This totally isn’t about you.”
Charlie laughed and bit into her own apple. “Have they caught anything?”
He looked at her, deadpan. “What do you think?” But as he turned away again, she caught a hint of a smile on his face.
“You’re not doing it right,” Jason told Connor.
“You’re the one who’s scaring the fish away.”
They sounded like five-year-old playmates that got cranky after spending too much time together; except, they were actually twenty-five-year-old boys with knives instead, so the whole thing was likely to escalate quickly.
“Boys!” Bass barked. It got their attention. “Play nice,” he commanded, boredly taking another chomp out of his apple.
“How long have they been at it?” Charlie asked.
“Ever since you told the Neville kid you were too busy to go hunting with him. Connor took that as an indication that you would rather go hunting with him, like it was some kind of metaphor or something. So, Tom heard it and he hates you and didn’t want to hear any of it, so he told them to come back with food or sleep outside with the coyotes.”
“There aren’t any coyotes out here.”
“Does it matter? This is hilarious.”
“It’s only funny until one of them pees on my leg.”
“Nah, it’d be funny after that.”
They shared a laugh. Charlie nudged him. This was not lost on her would-be suitors.
“You’re driving the fish away!” Jason snapped at Connor.
“Well, maybe if the fish wasn’t so cold,” Connor said loudly, loud enough to make sure Charlie heard it.
Jason shoved him hard. “Don’t talk about the fish like that!”
Connor shoved back. “Don’t touch me, you dick.”
Jason jumped Connor and got his head under the brownish water of the muddy stream. Connor kicked Jason’s legs out from under him and took him down with him and they rolled around in the water and mud for a while, punching and flailing.
Charlie leaned her head on Bass’s shoulder, smiling. “They’re really not observant, are they?”
“No,” he replied shaking his head, laughing. “No, they’re not.”