Dad and the boys still weren’t back by sundown on the day we expected them, so Will drove the truck down to the head of the trail they had taken three days earlier. He figured if they were hiking out, he would be able to give them a ride home the last couple of miles.
He waited until after dark, but never saw a sign of them, so he returned home. We were all disappointed but not worried. They must have been having a good time and decided to stay another night.
The next morning after chores, he drove out to the trail head again and this time, I went with him. It was a beautiful morning and the clear skies promised a real summer day.
“Look, there’s Navajo Tea!” I exclaimed, spotting some of the yellow flowers on long slender stalks.
We had scattered greenthread seeds (also known as Navajo tea or cota) all up and down this road three years earlier but I had given up on it actually growing. Now here it was, in full bloom.
Will pulled over and I jumped out to gather a large bouquet of Navajo tea. Will joined me, snapping off the long stems carefully to avoid uprooting the plants. We left standing flowers here and there to reseed the area.
“Grandpa is going to love this!” I said, happily.
“So will Dad. He always says Navajo tea makes him feel euphoric,” Will added.
“What does that mean—euphoric?” I asked.
“Uh . . . like, happy and chilled out, I think,” Will answered, handing me his bundle of the long green stems. He began waving his arms around his head to dissuade a large fly from landing on him.
“Hey! Will!” We heard a voice shouting and turned to see Jake, running down the road toward us with his backpack bouncing up and down on his back. I looked down the road behind him, trying to see Dad and Daniel. Jake was smiling ear to ear and looked excited as usual. He had a staff in his hand and was super dirty, like someone that has been camping outdoors for three days and nights.
He arrived out of breath and bent over at the waist, holding onto his staff and trying to catch his breath.
“Where’s Dad and Daniel?” Will asked.
“They’re back there . . . you should go pick them up. . . Daniel . . . hurt his ankle. Dad’s carrying him,” Jake gasped out dramatically, while heaving for air.
“What? Carrying him! Get in the truck.” Will took the pack off of Jake’s back and threw it in the back of the truck. I was already sliding into the passenger seat.
“It’s not bad,” Jake said, sliding in beside me. Will shifted into gear and we bounced down the road faster than usual.
“Dad says it’s probably just sprained and bruised, but he didn’t want Daniel to walk on it and make it worse.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“We climbed the back wall of Red Canyon. Daniel had never rappelled before. Dad gave him instructions but Daniel didn’t do it right. He didn’t tie off like Dad had showed him and he started to fall. Dad caught him but he still fell a little way and slammed into the wall. Dad got a rope burn on his hand.”
“I guess he paid attention after that,” Will said, dryly.
“Yeah. He did,” Jake affirmed. “And we had a really good time. Daniel loved it. He found a puppy under the cattle guard at Willow Wash—” he broke off and looked pained.
“What?” asked Will.
“I wasn’t supposed to tell you. I forgot. He wanted it to be a surprise.”
“We’ll act surprised,” I said, sitting forward to look out the windshield for Dad and Daniel. “Told you, you can’t keep a secret,” I added.
“It’s nice to be back,” Jake said, sarcastically. “I missed you too.” I felt a little ashamed at my jibe and turned to look at him.
“I did miss you. It was pretty boring without you guys around,” I admitted.
“Ho! I bet you missed your boyfriend most,” Jake said meanly, and I was sorry I’d been nice to him at all.
“There they are!” Will said, and started to slow down. “Wow, I bet Dad is tired out.”
I opened the door and jumped out the second Will stopped the truck.
When Dad saw the truck coming, he let Daniel slide down off of his back and now he stood beside Dad, looking a little sheepish and very sunburned. Dad looked beat. His face was bright red and he moved like an old man, shuffling toward the truck to throw his backpack into the bed of the truck.
“Hey Mona,” he said, reaching out to lay his hand on my head for a moment. “Will, thanks for coming out to get us. I am about finished.” Dad climbed wearily into the passenger seat.
Daniel hopped on one foot to the back of the truck and climbed in awkwardly. I saw no sign of a puppy. Jake and I climbed into the back with him and Will began to turn the truck around. Daniel looked happy, worn out and dirty, just like Jake. He grinned at me.
“Guess what I’ve got,” he said. Jake looked at me pleadingly and although he was still a member of the turd club as far as I was concerned, I said, “Uhh. . . a sunburn?”
“Heh, yeah. But something else.” Then he pulled his backpack around in front of him and I saw a little face in the opening. Daniel reached in and pulled the puppy out. He was the cutest little thing I ever saw.
“Oh! He’s so sweet!” I exclaimed, reaching out to touch the downy-soft, black fur.
“His name is T-Rex,” Daniel said, putting his face down close to the puppy and rubbing his cheek against the silky little head. “Your Dad says he looks like he’s part collie and part lab.”
“He’s really cute.” I was amazed at how attached to the puppy Daniel seemed to be. Had he never had a dog?
“I’m going to keep him,” Daniel said. “Your dad says I can keep him and when I go home, I’ll take him with me if—” he paused and then continued fiercely, “I’ll take him with me when I go home.”
I nodded, hoping that was how it would go, because Daniel sure was in love with that puppy. I was glad he had something he valued so much. Maybe it would make his life better.
“He loves you.” I watched the puppy lick Daniel’s cheek. He smiled happily.
“Yeah. He knows I saved him,” Daniel said.
“From what?” I asked, looking at Jake. Jake shrugged and rolled his eyes.
“From being lonely!” Daniel said, as though that were a fate worse than death.
Will pulled into our driveway and we all started climbing out. Susanna came running out of the house.
“Oh, what a darling little puppy!” she exclaimed and won Daniel’s heart. He handed the puppy to her as though he were made of glass and she accepted him with the same extreme care. I bit my lip to hide a smile but was impressed again. Susanna is so good at connecting with people.
I turned to Dad, who wearily put a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me.
“Hey girl, how’s it been going here? We missed you guys.”
“We missed you.” I said. “It’s been pretty boring around here with you gone. Nothing at all has happened. How was your trip to Red Canyon?” I asked.
“Exciting,” Dad winked at me. I could tell he was very glad to be home.
Mom came out of the house and hurried down the steps and over to Dad. He grabbed her in a big bear hug and swung her around in a slow circle. I saw Daniel stop talking to Susanna and turn to watch them.
“Oh, man. It is good to see you,” Dad said, kissing Mom and then hugging her again. Anna ran over and attached herself to Dad’s legs. He picked her up and carried her into the house without letting go of Mom.
“Your parents are cool,” Daniel said to Susanna, watching them disappear through the door.
“I know.” She hugged the puppy, who started to lick her face.
“Here, I better take him now,” Daniel said, reaching for the puppy. “He’s used to me and might be scared in a new place like this.”
Mom and Dad came back out to the porch with glasses and a pitcher of tea. We all sat on the porch for a while, listening to Jake and Daniel talk about their hike, the mountain climbing and the camping they had done. It sounded like they had a really good time.
Daniel’s manner seemed different to me. He acted kind of—well, man-like. That sounds weird, I guess, but I couldn’t find another word for it. It was as though he had more confidence than before. He sat near Dad and kept looking at him and talking to him just like Jake does, eagerly, and with a funny sort of comradeliness. Daniel’s heart was healing. I remembered praying for that.
God is good, isn’t he? I thought, looking at Dad and the boys laughing together like old friends.
“He’s in that puppy Daniel loves so much. And in Dad, carrying Daniel out of Red Canyon. He’s in this summer, bringing Daniel here to experience a different kind of life, even if it’s only for a while. He’s so kind and good and—and—unexpected.”
“Daniel, your dad called a little while ago,” Mom said, when the conversation lulled for a moment.
Daniel froze in position where he was sitting on the porch floor with T-Rex. He didn’t look up or even appear to hear her. Dad looked at Mom questioningly.
“He said to tell you that he’s really sorry,” Mom continued. “He’s been in detox for the last week and says he is a little crazy right now with the stress. He wants to talk to you sometime and left a number you can call.”
Daniel didn’t look up.
“Everyone has to deal with bad stuff sometimes,” he said quietly, as though talking to T-Rex. “Or, they don’t deal with it. Instead they begin to add to the evil in this world by doing bad stuff themselves. . .”
I felt a little cold with shock, realizing Daniel was quoting Dad, almost word for word. His voice was hard and expressionless, like a recording. And he just sat there, playing with his puppy as though he were saying something happy and friendly. It kind of creeped me out. Everyone was silent for a moment. I looked around at the faces of my family.
“We love you, Daniel,” Dad said, breaking the silence. “We don’t hold it against you that you lost control a few days ago. We’re glad to see you recovering what you lost and we hope you make it all the way. But if you don’t, we’ll still love you and be here for you as long as you’re willing to get up and try again.”
My mind was racing to understand what was going on. Daniel had been talking about his dad—or had he? Dad assumed Daniel was talking about himself. Or did he?
“Your dad might not deserve that much,” Dad continued. “He might be a real ass. But holding onto that anger will hurt you more than anyone else. Hold onto something good instead. Like love, hope and goodness. Let those fill you up until you don’t have room for any hate and anger.”
Daniel’s shoulders hunched over and he hugged his puppy to himself, hiding his face behind it. Then his shoulders began to shake silently and I realized he must be crying.
Dad looked around at us and gestured with his head toward the door. Will got up, pulling Jake with him and said to me, “Hey, let’s go get lunch started. I bet the guys are really hungry after that trip.” He pulled Jake through the door and I followed with Susanna.
I don’t know what else Mom and Dad said to Daniel but from that day forward, he was different. His spirit seemed lighter and freer. He learned quickly and listened to whatever Dad told him. But he was also still Daniel, with that twinkle in his eye and the teasing smile that made me feel like laughing and hiding at the same time.