It was always a measure to me, if I could just sit and be with someone in silence. If I felt the need to talk or sensed awkwardness from the silence, then it was a sure sign that the friendship wasn’t meant to be. But I felt neither of those things with him. Just being next to him was comforting.
It was odd. The only people I’d felt this way with were Raphael and Daniel.
One of them was gone forever.
And my brother… I focused on my plate of food, blinking away the tears that formed.
“Hey. You okay?” Lucas said.
“Fine.” I lifted my fork, but couldn’t bring myself to take a bite.
Lucas reached under the table, and his hand squeezed my knee. Heat rushed through my body and it was almost enough to distract me from the thought that Raphael might not make it. “It’s going to be okay,” Lucas said.
“Yeah,” I said the word, but without much faith behind it.
“I mean it.”
When I met his gaze, his aura had brightened a little. Gotten more intense. For whatever reason, I could pick up on that subtle difference. “I know you do.” I just wished I fully believed it.
“Don’t get down. Not yet. We’ll find the answer.”
I nodded, and he moved his hand. I instantly missed the feel of it there. His touch soothed my soul and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
If I made it through this without embarrassing myself in front of him, that would be a miracle.
Lucas claimed we were on a hiking trail but that seemed dubious at best. Nature had encroached on almost every inch of the essentially nonexistent path. Branches scraped against my arms and legs as we pushed forward, and I was glad that Meredith and Teresa had made me go shopping. My beloved flip-flops wouldn’t have cut it for a second. The hiking pants and thick fleece jacket were much better suited to Peru. I probably should’ve bought the hiking shoes that Dastien had picked, but they were so ugly I’d gone with the less sturdy pink and purple running shoes. Hopefully that choice wouldn’t earn me a twisted ankle.
The air was getting thinner and cooler. I zipped up my fleece and hooked my thumbs in the little holes at the end of the sleeve so that my hands were nearly covered. It felt like I’d walked miles since we left the van. “Have you been up this way before?”
“Once or twice.” Lucas held some branches out of my way. “Don’t worry, I know these mountains well. I’ve spent most of my life here. Although I usually travel this area as a wolf. It’s much faster that way.”
“But you haven’t lived here all your life? You don’t have an accent.” Now that he’d revealed one little piece of himself, I wanted more.
“No. I’ve traveled quite a bit. Most of us roam a few decades once we’re in our thirties. I lived in the US for a while, but the mountains called me home in the end.”
“And you don’t miss it?”
“America? Nah. We’ve got a McDonald’s in Cusco’s town square. Good enough for me.” He winked at me.
He had to be joking. “McDonald’s is all you miss?”
“Doesn’t everyone? It’s the epitome of America, right?”
I scrunched up my nose. “I don’t know about that. After the truth about the pink slime came out…” I teased him.
“Pink slime?” He asked.
He didn’t know about the pink slime? It had been all over the news, but if his village was this remote, he probably wasn’t that in touch with the rest of the world. “It’s this meat-like substance they use in their burgers. It’s basically dog food.”
He stopped walking for a second. “I ate there last night.”
I shrugged. “Maybe they use real meat here. But yeah, in America, it’s pretty disturbing. I wouldn’t touch the stuff. And that’s what you miss?”
“Not anymore.” He shook his head as he walked. “You’ve ruined it.”
I grinned at him to lighten the blow. “Sorry.”
“You should be. I used to sit up here and dream of their burgers.” He sighed, wistfully.
“Now, Whataburger. Those are something you can dream about.”
“Haven’t you ever visited the pack in Texas?”
“Eh. It’s been a while.”
“It’s been around for decades.” Oh my God. How old was he?
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “It’s been a really long while.”
Oh man. I was really losing it. There were so many reasons he was off limits, and age just added to the list. If only he didn’t look like he belonged on a Calvin Klein billboard.