They’d been hiking for hours. Sweat trickled down his face from the top of his hairline to his neck, a tiny drop detouring to touch the corner of his eye, momentarily blurring his vision. The intensity of the day’s heat had grown from warm and inviting to suffocating.
“How much longer, Dad?” asked his seven year old son.
He looked three paces back to Corbin. The boy was pushing a wisp of his strawberry blond hair out of his eyes. His freckles seemed to multiply under the hot sun.
He took a breath to answer, then paused. He didn’t really know how much longer. He didn’t know because he had insisted they wander from the trail. He had wanted to teach this little guy, the one who was too comfortable with quiet pursuits, that the world was big and he needed to match its wildness with strength of his own. It had been his idea to take this hike into the woods filled with blackened trees and matted leaves and heard but unseen animals so that his boy would learn about manhood even at this young age. A boy had to learn.
How much longer? As a father and as a man he had never been comfortable with acknowledging ignorance, even to himself. When faced with a question, he always had an answer, even if he really didn’t. Never in his adult life had he uttered the words “I don’t know”.
Upon first discovering their situation, they had hiked on and found the opposite edge of the woods. Progress, he had thought. They would certainly pick up a trail without the obstruction of branches to keep them from seeing far. They hadn’t.
Corbin’s voice was small in the grand expanse.
He stopped, then turned aside to sit on a large rock near the path.
“Let’s sit down for awhile. Pretty out here, isn’t it?”
As their breathing slowed from the huff of hiking to the soft in and out of rest, a sound, nearly imperceptible, quenched the silence.
Corbin’s eyes followed the sound of a muffled whine, and he slowly got up and tiptoed to where he could better observe its source. It was a puppy, old enough to wander, young enough to need its mother. The mother trotted up from behind some bushes that grew crookedly out of the rocky soil. She sat, nudging the puppy, and licked it with her hot tongue.
“She’s kissing him,” Corbin whispered to his father.
The dog picked the puppy up by the scruff of its neck and followed the distant call of her master.
Father and son watched as the dog trotted off. He hesitated, then reached down and hugged his son, kissing the top of his head.
“Let’s follow them,” he said.
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