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Current - Excerpt from Coffee, Kamloops, and a Copper Mine, a story about courage and loss, trauma and just trying to survive.
c. 2016 D.C. Shaftoe.
Coffee, Kamloops, and a Copper Mine by D.C. Shaftoe c.2016
Thick arms hauled Noah Kristofer upright. Two men dragged him forward. The man on his right smelled acrid, of cordite. He was most likely one of Macken Roy’s enforcers, members of the Dark Coast Warriors' gang. The man on his left struggled more, given his laboured and uneven breathing. He smelled of weed, that sickly-sweet odour of stale urine and stupidity. Noah wouldn’t trust this guy for much more than taking out the trash.
Apparently, that’s what Noah was, Maximiano Guerra’s trash.
In spite of today’s events, Noah didn’t regret sparing Maxi’s young life that night a decade ago. The boy had been an innocent no different from the hundreds of children Chenche had sold into sexual slavery and addiction during his reign of terror. Noah wouldn’t go back and remove Maxi’s chance to make a new life, to chart a course different from his father’s intent.
Neither would he surrender Grady to his uncle’s dark intent. Grady had a right to life, he had a right to happiness. Noah intended to do everything in his power to keep the boy alive until help arrived. Help was coming, he was sure of it. Ella would not sit idly by while Noah suffered. She loved him. She trusted him to do his best to survive and to protect Grady.
Noah planted his feet, resisting the forward motion of the two men dragging him inexorably forward toward something cold and looming, a space he imagined as a gaping maw. The air was laced with the scents of mildew and ore.
“Grady!” Noah shouted the boy’s name. His voice came out harsh and lacking full strength. But the effort made the two smelly men pause. “Grady!” Noah forced more authority into his voice while he dug his heels into the ground.
The enforcer’s fists clenched and Noah had a moment to tighten his whimpering muscles before he was punched in the gut. The air whooshed out of lungs. His knees gave out. He was dragged forward before he could catch his breath.
Noah wheezed in a breath. “Grady, son.”
Force impacted Noah from the back. The pothead on his left stumbled but the enforcer kept them moving inexorably forward. Little arms wrapped around Noah’s waist from behind.
“Good job,” Noah murmured.
“Too scared to be alone in the dark?” Macken sneered.
“Wait! Un momento,” Maxi intruded. He sounded almost panicked. “He’s no dead yet.”
“Copper mine will kill ‘em,” Macken said, ordering the men to continue inside. “Not our fault if they wandered away, fell in a mine shaft, and died.” Macken’s voice chilled with the tones of a sociopath enjoying the suffering of a child.
The air chilled, colder even than Grady’s hands which clutched the fabric of his shirt, pulling and leaving gaps at the buttons. He was glad he’d worn a T-shirt beneath the flannel.
“Wait,” Macken ordered and the men immediately obeyed, confirming Noah’s suspicions that Macken had brought support while Maxi had blindly trusted the older man. All the muscle responded to Macken’s orders and ignored Maxi’s.
“What is?” Maxi asked. There was young confusion in his voice. He was a man by years but not by choice. Someone, some cruel person had fed this boy’s heart with bile and hatred until he’d been forced to see Noah as his enemy. Perhaps Noah himself had done that when he had followed the order to terminate Chenche that night. If only he’d known the boy was there, he could have made a better plan to stop the father, a plan that would have helped the son.
“It’s not too late, Maximiano,” Noah said. “You don’t have to live this way.”
Footsteps. Booted feet. A resounding slap. Noah’s head jerked back. Pothead jerked to the side to avoid getting a nose full of Noah’s skull, but still held on.
Grady’s arms tightened around Noah’s waist, hurting him and making it hard to a draw full breath. But Noah wasn’t doing anything to dislodge the boy. There was no way he was leaving this child to his uncle’s nonexistent mercy.
“Shut up.” Macken’s voice was low, sinister. Vicious. His breath wafted into Noah’s nostrils, rank with whiskey and a hint of oregano. “No salvation.”
“What?” Noah asked, then ignored him. He felt the heat of Macken’s face close to his. But he heard the indecision in Maxi’s. That was the message to which he wanted to respond. “Leaving me to die won’t bring your papa back. You have an opportunity to make a better life. You don’t have to buy and sell your soul because Chenche did. Make a choice, Maxi. Make a better choice.”
“Shut up!” Macken’s fist shot out, the blows raining steadily down.
With his arms restrained by goons and his feet pinned to the ground by Grady’s body weight, Noah had no choice but to absorb the punishment. He was barely conscious when he fell. But he knew that Grady was with him.
Noah fell. He dropped a few feet, straight down, landing on his side. The impact knocked the breath from his lungs. Grady’s body was ripped from him. The angle changed and he slid, scrabbling for purchase. His fingers grasped, digging into dirt, scraping along rock, clutching at rotted wood, slivers piercing the skin of his palms.
The bottom disappeared. He fell. Impacted the earth. The world winked out.
When Noah woke, his trousers were damp. For a moment he thought he was back in the hospital and he’d wet his pants. But the ground beneath his prone body smelled of dirt and damp, not clean hospital sheets. His only pillow was the earth.
Where am I? Noah reached out with his senses. Cool humidity filled the air around him, soaking into his body to make him shiver. There was silence but for a repetitive clacking sound and the occasional drip-drip of water. His body ached. His head throbbed. The world was black. But that was nothing new.
Reaching out, he patted the chilled ground until his fingertips brushed fabric. “Grady?” he croaked. Swallowing a few times, he forced enough saliva into his mouth to try again. “Grady.”
A breath of sound in reply while a small hand patted his head, little fingers tangling in his messy curls.
“Easy.” Noah winced at the pull. He didn’t need more pain added to the ache throbbing up his body.
Slowly, Noah rolled onto his side, pushing up to sit against the cold, stone wall, testing each new posture to gain information on the state of his body. It hurt. But nothing seemed broken.
“You okay, G?”
Chattering teeth were his only response. Noah followed the sound until he could pull Grady close. Grady resisted a moment and then collapsed into his embrace. His head connected with Noah’s sore ribs but he hugged the little boy regardless. “It’s okay, kid. We’re alive. We’ll be okay.”
Aside from the chattering of his teeth, Grady made no sound. He clutched fistfuls of Noah’s flannel shirt. Somewhere along the way, one of Macken’s goons had stolen his sweater. Grady’s shuddering increased and then gradually diminished until he was lying quietly against Noah’s body. Grady’s body had leeched the heat out of Noah’s, leaving him chilled to the bone.
“They touch you, kid? After I passed out?”
Grady’s head brushed against his chest in a negative response.
“Good. You know where we are?”
Grady shook his head again.
“You have your device?”
Grady gasped as though he meant to cry but instead he squeezed Noah’s ribs tighter, making him grunt at the discomfort.
“It’s okay, kid. You and me, we know how to communicate, don’t we? We don’t need a device.” We could use a phone, though. They’d taken pleasure in searching Noah’s pockets and removing everything, smashing his blind man’s phone that contained the text from Ella, “Can’t wait to run my fingers through your hair and kiss you until you pass out from lack of oxygen.” Though it was unlikely there was cell coverage here, wherever here was.
Grady’s face tilted up toward his as he relaxed his grip to a more comfortable level.
“We’re going to be okay, G. Okay? You hear me?”
Grady finally nodded, his movements jerky.
“Okay. Cool. Did they leave my cane?”
Grady released one hand and Noah heard him patting around the ground. Grady returned, picking up one of Noah’s hands and placing it on his head. Grady shook his head.
“No cane,” Noah interpreted. “Okay. Can you see?”
Grady shook his head again.
“Dark. We must be inside somewhere. It doesn’t feel like outside. The air is too stale. No animal sounds. The ground is hard-packed.” Noah explored the area around him with his free hand, the ground and then up the wall at his back. “Stone walls, but unevenly cut. A tunnel, you suppose?”
“Mine,” Grady replied. In his own voice.
Noah smiled in relief. If Grady was willing and able to use his voice, they stood a better chance of getting out of here.
“Mine,” Grady repeated.
Mine. He’d already said that his device was gone. And he didn’t have a cane to claim as mine.
“Did they take something that belongs to you besides your iPhone, dude?”
“Dig. Copper. Not police.”
Dig? Police? Copper. Je comprend. “Okay. Cool. We’re in a copper mine. There are tons of them around—Kamloops.” Home. He’d almost called the place home. Boy had he ever changed his tune. “Disused one, I’d guess, or we’d be too easy to find. I don’t think the two M’s want us to get out of here.”
“Say mine kill us.” Grady’s voice was rusty from disuse but his speech was clear.
“You and me?” Noah asked as though the idea was ludicrous. “Together we’re getting out of here and going home. Just watch us.”
“God with us. Lillian says.”
“Lillian is one amazing lady, G. Thank you for reminding me. God is with us.”
“She’s dead,” Grady said.
“That’s true,” Noah replied. What else could he say?
Noah pulled Grady close. “You have a home, Grady. With Ella and me.”
“As long as you want it.”
This boy who spoke so few words knew just what to say to fill Noah’s chest with warmth. He accepted the promise without question, and Noah wanted more than anything to fulfill it.
“We need to figure out which way to go. If this is a disused copper mine, there should be several paths that lead to the outside.” And several that lead nowhere.
“What do you mean? They exploded a bomb or something?”
Hm usually meant yes. “They probably collapsed the main entrance.” Noah recalled a loud noise as he’d lost consciousness. Setting dynamite or a bomb at the entrance would make sense. It would seal them in. And Maxi did seem to like bombs, if the bomb that had destroyed his super-fine CR-Z was any indication. “They assumed we’d lie down and die. Fou. We are getting out of here. Help me up.”
Noah let Grady pull him to his feet. He braced one hand on the wall behind him for support. As he came upright, his head pounded harder. His ribs ached as though they were definitely bruised but maybe not broken. His hands hurt and the ache in his groin was making him queasy. Even so, this was nothing compared to the pain he’d experienced in the bush. If he survived that to come home, he’d survive this. He had Grady to help him and Grady to save.
“Okay. Cool. We’re on our feet. Now, we need to stay together. You wearing your webbed belt?”
“Take it off. We’ll lengthen it and hook it through your belt loop and mine. That way we’ll stay connected.”
Noah remained still, waiting until Grady pressed the belt into his hands. He examined it with his fingers. Extended, it should provide a solid link, yet allow them to walk comfortably. Noah fastened and tested it. When he moved, Grady did, too. With that connection, they wouldn’t need to hold hands and Noah would be able to use both his hands and his feet to map out the space.
“Okay. We need to explore this area and find all the openings. Okay?”
“Let’s get started.”
Noah and Grady slid their palms along the walls, Grady low and Noah high, to map out the cavern. The ledge they’d traveled down was slick and far too steep to climb. They weren’t getting out the way they’d involuntarily entered. If Maxi had blown the entrance, it was futile to try. No, they needed to find an alternate route out.
The cavern in which they found themselves formed a lopsided oval with three openings. Noah led Grady to the first. “Stand here, bud. Put your hands out in front of you and stand still. Breathe slowly. What do you feel?”
Grady’s breath shuddered in his chest. “C-cold.”
Noah wrapped his arms around the boy’s shoulders and pulled him into his body to offer warmth. “Yep. The air is cold. Is it moving?”
Grady slowed his breathing as he concentrated on the messages his body was sending him. “N-no.”
“I agree. The air from this tunnel is still. Put your left hand on the wall and walk with me until we find the next one.”
Noah shadowed Grady’s movements, keeping their bodies close for warmth. He extended his right arm to test the space in front of them, in case anything had changed. Grady leaned into Noah’s body when he decided they’d drifted too far apart.
Noah detected the slightly cooler air a moment before his left hand encountered an edge that indicated a tunnel opening. He positioned them in front of it. “Is the air moving? Is it warmer or colder?”
“C-c-cold.” Grady moved a half-step forward causing the belt that connected them to tug on Noah. “Windy. Small wind.”
“I feel it, too. There’s a slight breeze coming toward us. Let’s check the other one to be sure.”
They slid their palms along the wall, keeping connected to each other as they moved slowly. The next tunnel opened almost directly across from what Noah thought of as Number Two, or, he hoped, The Exit in bright red letters with a flashing arrow pointing “this way out”. They set their bodies in front of it like they’d done at the others.
“Windy. Behind us.”
“Yes. This won’t take us out of here. We go back to number two and walk along it. That wind moving toward us is coming from outside. If we follow the tunnel, we’ll find our way out.” I hope.
They made their way back, using their right hands on the rock this time. Before they entered the tunnel, Noah crouched awkwardly, positioning himself face to face with Grady. At least that was his intention. He rubbed his hands up and down the boy’s arms to warm him. Grady responded by pressing his body against Noah’s and gripping him tightly around the neck. Noah flinched at the pain it caused, repositioned the boy and hugged him.
“We’re okay, G. Your uncle tried to kill you but he failed. We’re going to get out of here and tell the police and he’s going to prison.”
Remember? “When Macken killed your father?”
“Who cares? We know he did this today, don’t we?”
“This is enough to put him away.”
“Right. Now? I want to go home to Ella.”
“Ella and Otto, here we come,” Noah said. “We’ve got to watch for rubble that might trip us. And puddles. The water down here is very cold and some of the puddles might be deep, wide, and long. You see any light yet?”
“Tell me if you do, okay?”
Grady didn’t respond but Noah was fairly certain he nodded because of the way his body moved. There was a sort of magnetic field around people. When you got close, you felt, or maybe sensed, a prickle of energy or heat or something. Anyway, it helped him interpret Grady’s movements.
“We stay together. Keep moving toward the breeze. Get out of here and back to Ella and Otto.”
“We should pray?”
“You want to?”
“No. Too many words.”
“Okay. Cool. You pray in your head and I’ll pray out loud.” Noah closed his eyes and bowed his head automatically. His mother would be pleased. “God, Grady and I need your help. Please get us out of here. Amen.” Noah placed his hand on Grady’s head after one miss. “My mother used to pray with me.”
“Did you think I didn’t have a mother?”
Grady chuckled, a near-silent puff of air. It was good to hear him laugh. “Lillian.”
“Lillian taught you to pray?”
“They loved you very much.”
“Yes. My mother loved me.” My father? Not so much.
“Not me. Mother try to take me. Papa kill her. Take me back.”
“I’m sorry, kid. You’ve survived a lot of wicked stuff. And you’re a great kid in spite of it.” Was that what Ella meant when she asked how he got to be so nice? So many lost their way when the nastiness of life touched them. But it was no excuse to spread the disease.
Grady squeezed him around the waist and then hooked his right hand in Noah’s waistband. “Ready. Go.”
Ella Kristofer was going out of her mind. Apparently, GPS was not as accurate as everyone said. The initial readings from the watch indicated that Noah, and hopefully, Grady, had traveled south then west. That was it, the sum total of information. Southwest of Kamloops, there were forests, lakes, copper mines and silver mines, both extinct and active. But where was Noah?
Grady Jones was in the dark. But he was not alone. Noah Kristofer walked beside him.
This was a darkness unlike any Grady had experienced. In the city, it seemed like there was always light somewhere. The nights had been darker at the campground, but there had been stars and, usually, the moon. Deep in the bowels of this copper mine, there were no stars, no streetlamps, nothing.
Was this what Noah saw all the time? If so, Grady didn’t think he would like it. He’d be so scared all the time that he’d never be able to go to school or take Otto for walks. Noah was the bravest man that Grady knew. Except maybe for Jesus. He was God. He could have lived in heaven all the time and expected people to figure out the way to be saved. Instead, he became a human man and lived on the earth just like all the other human men and women. Then he let bad people hurt him and nail him to a cross. All so everybody had a chance to be saved and go to heaven, too. Grady didn’t have to talk out loud to get to heaven. Jesus loved him just the way he was. Grady believed that. He knew it in his head and in his belly. Jesus loved him, and because Grady believed in that, he had God with him all the time, and when he died, he would go to heaven.
But Grady didn’t think it was time for him to die. Noah said they would be okay, that they would get back to Otto and Ella. Grady heard a quiet voice in his head that told him it would be okay, too. Grady knew that voice. It had warned him to run on the day the bad men killed Lillian and Peter. And it was a voice that whispered love when he was lonely and his chest hurt with sadness.
“Stop a minute,” Noah said, interrupting Grady’s thoughts. “I smell water.”
Grady breathed deeply for a few breaths but he didn’t smell anything except what he’d smelled ever since Uncle Macken and the other man, Max, had pushed them down the slopes to this tunnel. Dirt.
“Move slowly,” Noah said.
Grady tapped his left foot in front of him. Nothing different. He pushed his other foot forward and the toe of his hiking boot splashed in a puddle. He froze, looking up at Noah. But even at that distance, he couldn’t see his face. He couldn’t see Noah’s curly hair that flopped all over his head, or the scar across his left eye. That eye was all black. But his other eye was brown.
“You found it, kid. You’re a genius,” Noah said.
That made Grady feel good. Adults never said nice things about Grady. They all thought he was dumb, too stupid to understand, because he didn’t talk. Except Peter and Lillian. And Noah and Ella. And Pastor Enoch. And maybe Ella’s brother, Perry. He was funny. There was getting to be more and more people that thought that Grady was smart.
The belt attached to Grady’s belt loop tugged—he thought that Noah must be kneeling down to examine the puddle—and so he dropped to his knees, too. What was to learn about a puddle?
“Zut. That water is cold.” Noah paused. “And oily.”
It was wet and cold. They knew that. They could walk through it. Grady didn’t have rubber boots but so what? His hikers would get a little wet.
“I wish I had my cane,” Noah murmured. Maybe Noah was scared of the water because he couldn’t see. “You know how to swim, G?” Noah asked.
Swim? Did Noah think the puddle was a lake? Was it?
“G? Do you know how to swim?” Noah asked again. He reached out and touched Grady’s face.
Grady flinched at the unexpected touch, but it reminded him that Noah didn’t know what Grady was saying unless he talked out loud. That was hard. When he’d heard Uncle Macken’s voice, all of his scared thoughts had come back and frozen his voice inside his head. But Noah was hurt. He had protected Grady, kept Uncle Macken from beating him with his belt. When Grady realized that he and Noah were alone down underground, and he remembered that Noah was unable to understand him unless he talked out loud, his speech kind of cracked open. And Grady could use his voice.
“Yes,” he said now. I can swim.
Yet it was so dark. He knew how to swim but he couldn’t swim here. Grady’s muscles shook. He’d taken swimming lessons and liked it, liked the water and the freedom of moving through it. But he did not want to step into this water. What if something was in there? Like a shark or sea snakes or--
“G? What’s wrong, kid?”
Grady’s teeth chattered. His voice started to freeze up.
“Grady.” Noah’s voice was sharp.
“N-n-no.” Grady pushed the word out through his clenched jaws.
“No what? No you can’t swim?” Noah wrapped his arm around Grady’s shoulders. “You’re shaking.”
Noah sighed and Grady knew he was disappointed in him. That made Grady feel like crying. “S-sorry,” Grady said. His throat felt tight and his eyes filled with tears.
“Come here,” Noah said. He drew Grady down to sit beside him. He hugged him tight. “G, it’s okay. Don’t be sorry. It’s okay to be afraid.”
“Yeah. I bet it is. Sorry. I forgot about that. I guess I’m used to it.”
Grady’s body began to settle down. “Really?”
“Sure. It wouldn’t do me much good to be able to see down here, anyway.”
“Are you scared?”
Noah’s chest moved like he laughed quietly. “Yeah. I’m scared. But I’m not going to die down here. And I’m not going to let you die, Grady.”
“Scared. Dark water.”
“I would say we can find another way out except I think this is the right way. I can feel the breeze moving toward us. The path is sloping upwards and the air gets fresher as we move along. We can do this together.”
Grady realized that his body was still again. He was cold but not cold enough to make his teeth chatter. He was hungry. And so thirsty. “Drink?”
“We can’t drink this water, G. It might make us sick, might even poison us. Sorry. We have to ignore the feeling,” Noah said. “So do you think we can make it across this puddle or pond or whatever it is?”
Can I do it? Am I brave enough? “Otto.” If Otto was on the other side, he would try.
“Yes. Otto is waiting for us to get out of here. Can we do it?”
Noah groaned as he shifted his body to sit a little differently. He was probably sore. Uncle Macken and Max had beaten him up for a long time. They had laughed. But Grady didn’t think it was funny. Four against one was coward odds. Five against one if you counted the guy with the soul-patch who stayed with the van. That wasn’t even a real beard. Now that Grady had seen Noah’s beard covering his cheeks and chin and lips, he decided to grow one when his manhood changes got finished up.
“We have no way to know how deep the water is or how far it stretches. We need to strip down to our skivvies and T-shirts. I’ll wrap everything in my shirt and sling it across my shoulders. It’ll be like wearing a bathing suit.”
Bathing suit. No chlorine so he wouldn’t have to have a shower after. “Okay.”
Grady felt Noah shift his body. He copied his actions, unfastening his hiking boots, removing his socks and stuffing them inside.
“Trousers, too, buddy.”
Grady unbuttoned his cargo pants then froze. “Belt.”
“Right.” Noah was quiet for a few minutes. “We can wrap it around our wrists. That will keep us connected.”
Noah chuckled. “You’re picking up my speech patterns, kid.”
“Don’t apologize, G. It would make Ella smile.”
He would like to make Ella smile. She was kind and fun. She liked to play games with him, even the stupid zombie game on her iPad.
Grady felt a tug on the belt. And then it was gone. The long, sharp claws of panic clutched at his chest. His lifeline slipped from his grip. If Noah got up and walked away Grady would be alone in the dark, dark mine.
Grady turned and clutched at Noah, burying one hand in his hair while his other clutched his shirt.
“Hey, kid. Stop. Settle down.” Noah put his hands on Grady’s arms. Grady pushed with his bare feet against the cold, damp ground, trying to get closer. But instead of pushing Grady away, Noah hugged him. “What’s wrong, G? What happened?”
Noah squeezed him tighter. “I’m not leaving without you, Grady.”
“D-d-don’t leave m-m-me.” Grady wrapped his arms around Noah’s head.
“Grady.” Noah said his name sharply. “Braeden!”
Grady pushed his face against Noah’s to feel his beard against his cheeks. He’d never known another man with a bushy beard. It reminded him that this was Noah. It was dark and he couldn’t see. But this was Noah here with him, Noah who had fed him and given him a safe place to sleep and movies to watch and taken care of Otto. Grady relaxed his hold a little.
Noah breathed in a long breath and coughed. “Yeesh, kid. What happened?”
He didn’t know how to explain. He didn’t even remember all the things that had come together in his life to make him feel so afraid at that moment. But he remembered that Noah had hugged him instead of hurting him.
“You okay to try this?” Noah asked.
Grady nodded, his cheek rubbing against Noah’s beard.
“Okay. Cool. I need to take off my shirt. You can hold onto my undershirt. Okay? We’ll stay together. I promise.”
Grady nodded, releasing his hold enough so Noah could remove his flannel shirt. Grady thought back but he didn’t remember what colour it was. Noah didn’t make Grady move away. He simply shifted him enough to wrap their clothes in his shirt and then sling it across his chest like a satchel.
“You ready?” Noah asked.
Grady nodded again. His voice just wouldn’t come.
The kid had shut down and Noah didn’t understand why. Something about stripping down had freaked him out. He was compliant, doing what Noah asked without trying to climb him like a tree. But he wouldn’t speak. Noah’s heart cracked a little more for the boy.
Noah wrapped the belt a couple times around his own wrist and then Grady’s. It was a risk and he’d much rather have had his hands free. Instead, he took Grady’s hand and walked forward tentatively, testing every step. It was cold. So very cold. And the ground sloped down, the water rising to Noah’s knees after the first few steps. Grady whimpered as the water hit his underpants, but he kept going. He was a brave kid. Noah would have told him so but he didn’t want to let his attention stray for even a moment. The bottom of this puddle, which was seeming more and more like a pond, was slippery. Rubble made each step tricky. He couldn’t afford to sprain an ankle, or worse to fall in and wet their clothes.
Noah shivered. Grady’s teeth chattered, his hand gripping Noah’s hard enough to hurt his bruised knuckles. Each wince reminded Noah that he’d gotten some payback. That a small portion of Grady’s trauma had been avenged. At least it helped him to think that way. It kept him from feeling emasculated. But even at his best, he wasn’t sure he’d been able to take on five men alone.
The water hit Noah’s jockeys and he paused, taking a half step back. His foot slipped off a slimy stone and Noah released Grady’s hand, waving his arms to recapture his balance. The belt loosened around his arm.
“Noah, Noah, Noah!” Grady cried aloud.
Noah’s right hand splashed in the water. His feet pushed against the bottom of the lake. Grady grabbed a fistful of his T-shirt and Noah stood. Breathing hard, he remained in place.
“Thanks, Grady. I almost dropped us in the drink. I’m sorry. Zut! That was close.”
Grady’s entire arm was shaking, his little fist wound in the fabric of Noah’s T-shirt. “N-N-Noah.”
“This frigging water is cold. Sacre bleu!”
“So cold,” Grady replied, his teeth chattering.
“You saved me, G. Merci.”
“I’m cold, N-Noah.”
Noah kept his stance wide while he pulled Grady slowly in for a hug. He didn’t want to risk falling again. He brushed his hand over the boy’s head. “We’re okay. We survived another hazard.”
“Something dangerous like an obstruction or a lake of freezing cold water, a blown up tunnel, a pile of rubble.”
Noah rewrapped the belt around his arm, took Grady’s hand again and drew a deep breath. “Let’s try this again.”
Noah chuckled. “Oui.”