A small white box with gold embossed writing advertising some store Riece had never heard of sat on the seat. Written over it in thick, black letters and in Mason’s handwriting was the word Riece.
He silently picked up the box and held it carefully while he climbed into the seat, only setting it down long enough to snap on and adjust his seat belt. Mason took his place behind the steering wheel and started the Jeep, glancing at Riece as he put the vehicle in gear and guided them onto the road.
“A little welcome-to-South Dakota gift,” Mason explained.
Riece frowned and looked out the window. “But we’re in Montana.”
“Not for long, and we’ll be working in South Dakota.”
“We’ll be working in the Black Hills. That mountain range is approximately 125 miles long and 65 miles wide, covering not only western South Dakota, but also eastern Wyoming,” Riece said.
“You sound like a talking travel brochure.” Mason sighed and shook his head. “I live in South Dakota. The office we’ll work out of is in South Dakota. I’m guessing you’ll live in South Dakota too.”
“We’re not in South Dakota,” Riece reminded Mason.
“Stick four or five of those taffies in your mouth,” Mason grumbled. “You like saltwater taffy. I know a place that sells amazing saltwater taffy. I thought you’d like some. Can’t you simply, for once, say thank you, enjoy your gift, and not nitpick over pointless specifics?” He used the palms of his hands to steady the steering wheel, stretched his fingers, then wrapped them around the steering wheel again.
“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen you in years, and the first thing I do is hurt your feelings,” Riece said softly.
Mason reached over and took Riece’s hand, holding it gently without squeezing. The gesture was extremely intimate and one that had been common between them at one time. “No, you didn’t hurt my feelings. You frustrate the hell out of me sometimes—most of the time—but what you say is almost never hurtful. I know better.” He let go of Riece’s hand, nodding to the steering wheel. “Gotta drive.”
It was the truth too. Riece knew that for a fact. He knew his communication skills were lacking, and somehow Mason had some innate way of knowing and, more importantly, accepting those traits in Riece. Maybe it was no different than the way Riece saw through what most people thought of as Mason’s brusque-bordering-on-asshole outward personality to the real man underneath.
“Would you like some?” Riece unwrapped a flavor he knew Mason liked and offered it.
Mason held out his palm. “Sure. Call and cancel your motel reservation.”
Riece smiled and nodded. It only took a few minutes to complete the task, and he set his phone on his lap when he’d finished.
Mason motioned to the dashboard. “There’s a hookup, so why don’t you plug your phone in and play us some driving music. Or if you’d rather, I still have the CDs you made. Those are in the glove compartment.”
“You kept them? I didn’t think you liked my music.” Riece pulled out his phone, plugged it in, and chose a playlist.
“Yes, of course I kept them. We’ll be at my friend’s place in a few hours. So, plenty of time for a nap if you’re tired,” Mason said. He pulled a threefold brochure from the visor and tossed it onto Riece’s lap. “That’s it. To answer your next five or six questions.”
Riece smiled and opened the pamphlet. Mason leaned back and rested his elbow on the door, grinning when Riece said, “It’s close to Devils Tower. I like the name, Big Rock Inn.”
“Devils Tower is a must-see,” Mason said. “You’ll like it, and since you’re now an official photographer of federal lands, maybe you can get some good shots. Tyler is a good guy, and the food there is great.” It took Riece a few seconds to sort out what Mason was saying since he sometimes tended to jump around when he talked.
“How’s your dad?” Riece asked. He yawned.
“He’s okay. His Alzheimer’s is bad enough now he has to live in a care facility, but I take him home with me when I have a few days off duty. He seems to enjoy it, though I’m not sure he always knows who I am.”
“So, you gave up time with him to pick me up?”
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