the guerilla camp. The desperation she had felt then slammed back into her anew. She couldnât shake a sense of dread, a premonition that getting Nicky back would be far more difficult than she had first imagined.
âGive me your pants.â
Excuse me? She looked at Brian across the fire.
He picked up a thighbone from the pile, put it on a rock and smashed it with a smaller chunk of stone. âIâm gonna fix the rip.â He chose a long, thin sliver of bone and worked it with his knife, drilling a hole in one end.
A needle. She stood and tugged at the rope. Having to use it to hold up her pants had been a pain. If she tied it loose, her clothes kept escaping; if she tied it tight, it cut into her abdomen. She fumbled. The fibers had swollen from moisture.
He came around the fire to help and got on his knees in front of her, his dreadlocks sticking out in every which direction. She sucked in her stomach to give him room to work.
The wildman of the jungle was helping her take off her clothes. Her life had crossed over from the insane to the bizarre.
The rope loosened, and he returned to his spot without looking at her. He seemed to know instinctually what she needed and whenâfood, protection, privacyâand gave it without thought. She sat back down, took off her boots and pulled the bottom of her pants from her socks where theyâd been secured to keep the bugs out.
âHere we go.â He peeled a thin string from the rope and licked the end to smooth down the fibers.
She took off the pants and tucked her shirt around her legs. It came to midthigh. She glanced at Brian across the fire. âHopefully, the bugs wonât do too much damage. They canât eat me in just a few minutes, right?â
His hands shook as he tried to thread the needle, the movement slight at first, then growing more pronounced. The muscles in his face tightened with each attempt. She had noticed the shaking before, a trembling that came to his fingers and passed after a while. His nerves were shot. That heâd survived at all was in itself a miracle.
âLet me do that.â She held out her hand.
He hesitated for a moment, his eyes burning like silver flames of an unearthly fire, then dropped theneedle and thread into her palm. She wanted to say something to lighten his mood, but what did you say to comfort a man whose life had been stolen away? What could she possibly say that would make the past four years okay? She focused on the needle and went to work.
He didnât stay idle, either. When she glanced up, he was rubbing two chunks of hard sandstone against each other. He didnât stop until he got a flat surface on one. He waited until the mist wet it, picked up the smaller of his two knives and worked the blade over the rock with smooth movements, away from him, clockwise first then anticlockwise. The sound sent shivers down her spine, reminding her of old horror movies.
Maybe it was the darkness that seemed to have swallowed them that turned her thoughts so morbid. The night was a solid black wall starting a few feet from their campfire, surrounding them. The calls of wild animals, like that of angry invisible ghosts, startled her from time to time, made her draw closer to the flames.
She had been able to appreciate the beauty of the jungle when she had first seen it on the peninsula shortly after their arrival. It had seemed a living, breathing marvel. Now she found it threatening.
Brian examined the knife at the light of the flames,then took his shirt off. As scary as his appearance was in general, his body was beautiful, despite the scars. And she appreciated the strength in it that had saved her life.
He grabbed his beard with his left hand and began to hack away with the right, tufts of hair falling at his feet. Once he was down to the last inch or so, he gathered some water from the palm leaves next to him, wet the stubble thoroughly, then shaved.