Mary was waiting on the front porch when Paul arrived. She ran down the walkway with her backpack dangling from her left hand while Paul held the car door for her.
“Guess someone is excited about our next adventure.” he couldn’t resist commenting.
“I just feel like we’re getting closer to figuring this out. It’s like reading a mystery, but instead of turning the page, we actually get to figure it out for ourselves.”
The car vibrated oddly after Paul turned the key in the ignition. Glancing over, he saw Mary bouncing in her seat, her excitement for the day’s adventure bubbling over. Her face glowed with an inner light he knew was reflected on his own, and wasn't entirely due to the mystery they were trying to solve. He paused with his hand still on the key to let the pounding of his heart slow from a gallop to a trot, temporarily forgetting where he was or what he was supposed to be doing.
Mary’s voice aroused him from the little side trip his brain had been taking.
“Um, Paul…are you going to put the car in gear so we can get there sometime today?”
Returning to Earth with a start, Paul put the car in Drive, nodding at a map lying on the seat.
“Oh, yeah, sure.” He shook his head, trying to reorient himself. “I’ve marked the map with the spot where we’ll park and start hiking.” Glancing over his shoulder before pulling away from the curb, he dragged his thoughts fully back to the day’s mission. “I think it’ll be far enough from the mine for us to avoid anyone until we’re ready, and it’s close enough to places where we can take cover should we run into anyone who might prefer we hike elsewhere.”
Paul missed the cat-eating-the-canary smile Mary aimed at his ear while he concentrated on the road.
“Sounds like a good plan, Paul.” She’d caught him wearing that same, befuddled look rather often lately, and was beginning to believe he might just share her feelings. It was no hardship to be spending a lot of time together trying to unravel this mystery. While Paul drove, Mary occupied her time watching the scenery and weaving little fantasies about a future where Paul figured prominently.
When Paul stopped the car, announcing, “This is the place!” Mary jumped as his voice startled her out of her musings. Where they stopped was unremarkable as most of the desert in this area tended to look the same. Joshua trees, cacti, and yucca marched across the parched ground as if they’d been flung in handfuls to land where they may. Rocks and dry weeds created obstacles ready to grab at the toes of unwary hikers. Some of the abandoned buildings which had supported the mine were visible, looking less dilapidated with their features softened by the distance.
Getting out of the car and shouldering their backpacks, Paul rolled up the windows and locked the car. Snakes, lizards, and scorpions were known to investigate anything resembling shelter. Mary shivered, partly from excitement and partly from an unexplained fear of what they might find.
“You OK, Mar?” Paul's brow furrowed with concern.
“Sure. Just a little excited about what we’re going to find.” Mary replied, the tremble in her voice belying the confidence in her words.
Choosing to ignore the slight shake in her voice, Paul took her hand and led her on the route he’d meticulously worked out the night before. Drawing himself up a little taller, he gave her a mock leer.
“Don’t worry, pretty lady. I’ll protect you from the evil demons…” spotting a snake slithering along the rocky path he added, “and any crawly things we might encounter on our quest.”
Giggling, Mary joined the game, letting it drive the fearful thoughts from her mind.
“Oh thank you, good knight! These woods can be a dangerous place for a delicate maiden like me.”
Paul draped his arm across her shoulders and pulled her close to better protect her. Mary sighed and snuggled into his side.
They hiked in comfortable silence for awhile. Paul’s arm slipped to Mary’s hand as the rocks and weeds made it necessary...