With her whole body quivering in shock she let go of the dagger, and she ran.
He looked up as she walked through the doorway of the living area and headed towards the front door.
"Where are you going?"
"Out. Gonna walk a bit."
"With a backpack and a flashlight? Where are you walking to?"
The tips of her fingers tapped her denim thigh impatiently while she scrambled an answer together.
"It's been five days since Kent went missing, Jax. I have a feeling he's out there. I have to keep looking."
Jax sighed and winced while he shifted his position.
"If I weren't laid up with a broken femur on one side and a smashed ankle on the other I'd join you, Tae."
She gave him an encouraging smile and tossed him his radio.
"I know. I've got my 9mm and a dagger so I should be okay. You're a good brother."
"You're a good sister. And friend. Kent doesn't deserve you."
She scoffed at him. He needed to do away with the deluded view he had of her relationship with Kent. They were friends, and that was it. Nothing more.
"Not funny, Jax. You know there's nothing between us. He's our friend, and he's missing. So I'm gonna look for him, and that's it. I swear."
"Gotcha. Be safe."
"'Kay. Stay out of trouble. I'll be back before it gets dark."
"...keep an eye out. Watch out for falling trees."
He shuddered when he thought about the accident.
Jax and Kent had been out hunting in the wooded part of Jax and Tae's inherited nine hundred fifty-three acre property when the accident happened. Jax passed out after being caught under a fallen tree and Kent went missing before he woke up. Jax had no recollection of seeing Kent because Kent had been walking behind him when the tree fell. Out of nowhere, by all appearances.
"Will do. Hey now, this isn't your fault. You know that, right?"
Her question snapped his mind out of the past. He shrugged.
"I guess. I just feel bad."
She gave him a quick hug.
"Don't. Love you!"
Tae closed the front door securely and let the screen door fall shut behind her. She pulled her hoody closer around her to guard against the chilly morning air. After topping off the gas tank of her four wheeler she strapped the extra three-gallon fuel container onto the back before turning it on and kicking it into first gear.
She squinted to see through the fog and scanned the tree line briefly. No sign of movement. She sighed and kicked the four wheeler into second and headed out.
It took her a good hour to get to the area where the accident had happened.
There was still no sign of movement in the area.
She turned off the motor of the four wheeler and put the key in her pocket, stopping to pull a few wires for extra precaution. You could never be too careful, especially when you were in the woods by yourself. She took her P-11 9mm out of her backpack and put it in its hidden holster, then strapped her dagger to her thigh. She prayed she wouldn't have to use either weapon.
She continued to scan the surrounding areas while she made her way through the forrest.
Tae gasped. There was a thin trail of smoke twisting its way through a small clearing off to the side of an old hunting path.
She cautiously made her way towards the smoke while being careful to stay in the shadows behind the trees.
As she crept closer she began to hear voices. Two voices. Kent and Rey's voices. She couldn't believe this. What was Rey doing here?
Rey was a second cousin who had coveted the farm and offered to buy it a few years back. He also happened to be the only living relative that Jax and Tae had. If they happened to die prematurely the farm would go to him.
Tae gasped at a thought she had, but she tried to push it back. She didn't like Rey, but that didn't make him a fiend. She would see what was going on.
She huddled behind an ancient pine tree and listened to what was being said.
"Where's the girl, Kent?"
"'The girl' has a name and I wouldn't tell you where she was going to be today even if I knew. Which I don't."
Kent's voice sounded so weak, yet strong.
Tae heard a painful noise followed by a low moan. She winced in sympathy.
"Enough! Don't smart-mouth me. I know you're close to your friends. You spend nearly every day here with them. If it weren't for the fact that you trail Jax so closely you wouldn't be in this predicament. Jax is dead, Tae will soon be done away with, and I will dispose of you in my own time. This land will be mine, and you do not have the power or the will to stop me."
Tae was horrified but she couldn't help but smirk at her cousin's speech. He had always been full of big talk but he never lived up to his dirty air-castles.
She carefully scanned the scene. Kent was tied to a tree and looked pale and very weak. He probably hadn't been given any food or drink since Rey had gotten hold of him. Rey had a dagger strapped to his thigh and a pistol of some sort in a holster on his side. She saw some tree-cutting tools sitting on a tarp on the edge of the little clearing and wondered how Rey had managed to have the tree fall on Jax. Then she remembered that Rey was an engineer.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Rey himself.
"She's probably out searching for you as we speak. Aren't you her boyfriend right now?"
Rey had a sneering face as a rule but it really was the limit right now. Tae held back a gasp at Kent's response. It was quiet and concise.
"Tae doesn't date. She's above that. Besides, as much as I like her I'm not good enough for her. I could never hope to be good enough for her. And no, she wouldn't be looking for me. Jax wouldn't let her."
"Jax is dead, remember?"
Rey was positively evil. Tae was fed up with him. She strategically planned her attack and quietly made her way behind Rey, in line of vision with Kent. She thanked God that her big brother had taken every measure to teach her self-defense. She crept through the lightly falling snow until she was just a few paces away from Rey's back. She stealthily drew her dagger and started closing in when Kent's voice rang out loud and clear.
"Look out behind you!"
Tae had just put her finger's on the handle of Rey's gun. She quickly pulled it out of the holster and then dodged to avoid his fist.
With her whole body quivering in shock she let go of the dagger, and she ran. She heard Kent's voice echoing out again.
"Tae!! The bear!"
She turned in her tracks and saw the brown bear lunging towards Rey and Kent. Rey was frozen in fear.
Tae quickly fell to one knee in an attempt to steady her shaking hands while she emptied Rey's .45 auto into the bear's chest. She dropped the gun and reached for her 9mm while the bear changed his course and headed straight for her. She aimed into the bear's mouth and shot as quickly as she could, backing up while she squeezed the trigger. Her third shot found its mark and Tae screamed as the bear fell at her feet. She dropped and rolled out of the way just in time to avoid being crushed by the massive beast.
She looked back towards the campfire and saw Rey shaking on his hands and knees with vomit on the ground around him. She pitied him.
Tae gently pulled Rey's hands behind his back and tied them together. He was totally subdued.
She radioed Jax and had him call the police with her location and predicament. He radioed back and told her that they would be there within the hour. For once in her life she wished their property wasn't so big, or so remote.
The snow was barely starting to fall when she walked over to untie Kent. She made sure to stay faced in such a way that she could keep an eye on Rey.
"Kent, are you alright? Did he hurt you?"
His tired face lit up with a smile.
"Not much, thank God. He knocked me out right before the tree fell on Jax."
His face fell.
"Is he-was Rey for real when he said Jax is...well..."
Tae's happy laugh bubbled out.
"No, praise God. Jax has a broken femur bone and a fractured ankle but other than that he's okay. I guess he walked slightly slower than Rey planned on."
Kent sighed with relief.
"I'm so glad. I cried last night, honest. Thanks for coming out for me. I'm sorry my warning about the bear came out that way...it must've sounded like I was warning Rey."
Tae laughed again. It was a relief after all of the stress the last several days had held.
"Haha!! It's totally alright. In the moment not so much..."
Her voice dropped.
"I'm just so glad that you're okay."
Kent rubbed his red wrists and looked suddenly bashful.
"Did-did you hear what I said to Rey earlier? About...well, about you."
Tae looked slightly uncomfortable.
"I actually have that whole conversation recorded. The one before that, too. The police should have plenty of evidence to keep Rey locked up for years."
Kent looked sheepish.
"That's good. I mean that you've got evidence. I can attest to a few things, too."
"Yep. Hey, can you keep an eye on Rey while I take a fifteen minute hike back to my ride for some blankets? It's snowing but you and I can't leave until the police come for Rey."
"Sure. Do you happen to have any food or water? I'm pretty hungry. He only let me eat a few times and it's been like two days since I've had any water. Thank God it snowed and I could suck on some of that."
Kent gently smiled at her.
"Just remember that he's a reprobate. We have every reason to pity him. And pray for him."
"You're right, Kent. Thanks."
Tae jogged all the way back to her four-wheeler and retrieved a box of supplies.
Back at camp, she tossed Kent a few blankets and a coat and headed over to where Rey was huddled against a tree.
"Here, I wouldn't want you to freeze to death. It's miserable out here."
She draped the thick blanket over him and walked over to pour extra fuel on the small camp fire. She popped open a can of chicken and rice soup and absently watched it cascade into the small stainless steel pan. It sizzled with a delicious smell.
Kent reached eagerly for the bottle of water.
"Drink it slow,"
"Don't make yourself sick right off the bat."
"Thanks, Tae. You're a lifesaver."
"It's no more than I would do for my own brother."
Kent bit his lip.
"Yeah, you're right. I know that."
"Kent...I didn't mean to snap. I'm sorry."
Kent smiled weakly at her.
"It's alright, Tae. I know...well, I guess I've been pretty obvious about the fact that I like you. But I can be content just being a friend, Tae. It's okay."
Tae pulled her hood further down her forehead and bent over the aromatic soup.
"Did you tell Jaxon?"
She fumbled with the now-steaming pan of soup and attempted to pour it into a mug without spilling any.
"About how I feel? Yes. He's known for three months now."
Tae gasped and handed him the steaming mug of soup.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes. No-I don't know. I didn't burn myself, if that's what you're asking. I'm just-I'm just trying to think about this. Kent, I've been so used to..."
She kicked at a little mound of snow with the toe of her boot.
"Used to what?"
"Well, to being-"
A voice called out of the woods.
"Miss Tae, are you alright?"
She whirled to face the voice and shouted back with relief.
"Yes, yes! We're here and I'm alright!"
Six officers and two paramedics made their way to the clearing and took official control of the situation.
Two officers took Rey in while two questioned Tae. She handed over the recorder and told them how she had found Rey and Kent and what condition Kent was in.
Meanwhile, Kent got the most attention. The two paramedics hovered around and felt him and poked him while the two officers quietly questioned him.
The paramedics finally poked Kent enough to be able to consent to his going back to the cabin with Tae, but on the condition that he go in in a few days for a checkup.
The officials all headed back to their vehicles down the trail while Tae picked up all of her supplies. She and Kent headed back to the four wheeler.
Kent insisted on carrying the supply box for Tae. He stumbled in the snow and nearly dropped the box.
Tae faced him.
"Let me take it."
She slid her fingers onto the wooden handles of the old box.
"Tae, you've done so much."
She tightened her grip on the handles.
"Kent, in all the years I've known you you have carried my things, picked me up when I fell, and given me your hand when I was weak. Let me do it this once for you, and then I promise that you can do it for me from now on after today."
Kent looked into her eyes.
"You mean it?"
It took them a good hour to get back to the cabin. Jax was waiting impatiently.
Kent leaned down for a bro-hug and then settled onto the ottoman next to Jax's couch. Tae took a footstool and sat at Kent's feet. He smiled down at her and she smiled back.
Jax looked between the two with a grin.
"...is there something y'all want to tell me?"
Tae hid her face on her lap and Kent laughed.
"Tae has agreed to give me a chance."
Jax leaned forward and tilted Tae's face up so he could see into her eyes.
"You swear, huh?"
She laughed and teasingly pushed his hand away.
"Let's look at it this way, Jax; I'm willing to talk about letting Kent add 'best' to 'friend' and make it life-proof. And yes, it'll be a firm commitment."
"Like I said this morning; Kent doesn't deserve you."
Kent smiled at Jax and Tae blushed.
"But then again, you don't deserve Kent, either."