On Monday, along with the continued martial arts and weapon training, Sean started the final phase of Trevor's training, the use of enhancement. As they got out of the jeep and walked over to their training area, Sean put his arm around Trevor's shoulders.
"Little Wolf, we are almost done with your training. When you leave here at the end of the week, you will need to continue practicing. The important thing is for the magic to become second nature to you. That way you will always have it at your command if you ever need it."
"I understand, Grandfather."
"Good. Well, let us get to work. We have only a little time before you will have to leave for home. When we started training, I told you that most of us tend to be very good in some of the powers, but only a few are good in many powers. So far you have shown that you are very good in several powers, especially when Zach is with you. We are going to work on enhancement for the next few days."
"What is enhancement?"
"Well, remember back to when Zach was hurt. Jake told me that the security people said that the restroom door was almost torn off its hinges when you kicked it in to get to him."
"Yeah, I kinda remember hearing about that from Dad. I don't remember much about it, except needing to get to Zach and help him."
"Well, just like when you used some of your powers to heal without knowing it, you used enhancement to help you open the door. So enhancement allows you to enhance your personal abilities, like strength, hearing, eyesight, things like that."
"So I made myself stronger when I kicked the door."
"It would seem so. Now I am not very good at enhancement, but I can help you get a basic understanding of it. Robbie is better at it, so I will have him work with you a little later. He is getting Cody settled in, but he'll be here tomorrow. Today I'm going to try to give you a little basic instruction on how to use it."
"The way this works is similar to the healing that you have done. Only this time, you must go inside yourself and make a temporary change to your body. For instance, you unconsciously enhanced your strength to break down the door. Let us go over to those downed trees."
On one side of the clearing was a tangle of downed trees and limbs. They walked over to the pile. Sean gestured to one thick limb.
"You have had martial arts training, so I want you to kick this limb and try to break it."
"I don't think I can do anything to it. It's too big."
"Just give it a try."
Trevor nodded and took a stance. He stood there for a few moments as he focused on the limb. He gathered himself and kicked it.
His foot struck the limb and he bounced off of it, falling back to the ground and started rubbing his leg.
"Yowch! That hurt."
"Here, let me see that."
Sean knelt down and put his hands around Trevor's leg, and they started glowing as Trevor felt the healing warmth. In a few moments his leg felt better. They stood up and Trevor tested his weight on the leg and felt no pain.
"Now let us try this with a little enhancement. Link with me and I will show you what it looks like."
Trevor closed his eyes for a moment and quickly linked with Sean. He could see the inner glow of Sean's power.
'Little Wolf, we will work on the one that you have already used, strength. Watch what I do in the changes I will do for my arm.'
Trevor followed as Sean moved his awareness to his arm.
'Now you use a power similar to your healing power. Take that power and put it into your arm, like you were going to heal your arm. Go deep into the arm, see the muscle fibers like you were going to heal the damage to them. You know what they are supposed to look like, now what you do is think of the fibers as being thicker and then push your power into them. Watch.'
As Trevor watched, he saw the fibers thicken until the whole muscle looked bigger.
'Now remember that the strength in your arm is not only muscle, but the bones and tendons as well. So you must also strengthen the underlying structures. If you don't, you could easily damage your bones and tendons. A muscle that doesn't have a strong structure could cause the tendons to rip loose from the bones, or cause the bones to break or even shatter if the muscle is strong enough. So push your power into the bones and tendons like this.'
Trevor continued watching as Sean's power was infused into the bones and tendons.
'You have to make the bones more dense and the tendons thicker and more powerful. Now let's see how I did.'
They came out of the link and they were once again standing in front of the downed limbs. Sean made a fist and brought it down hard on a limb that was about six inches in diameter. The limb broke in half.
"Very handy, isn't it. Like I said, I'm not very good at it. Now link again and I will show you how to reverse it."
They linked again and Trevor watched as Sean reversed the process. They unlinked and Trevor looked at Sean with a questioning look.
"Why wouldn't you want to leave your arm like that? You know, have the strength all the time?"
"Well, you could, but since it is not your natural strength, it would need to be continuously fed from your power to keep it up, and eventually it would take more than you could supply, even as strong as you are. You would die for overuse of your power. So you should only do this for a short period of time, and only when you need it. Now it is your turn."
For the next two hours Sean guided Trevor in using the enhancement power in making him stronger. After each enhancement, he had Trevor try to break a limb or thick branch, which he was easily able to accomplish. When they finished, Trevor was tired and sweating.
"Can you also use it to lift heavy objects?"
"Yes, but to do something like that, you have to make more changes in your body. If you just made your arms strong and tried to lift something like a car, your back and legs would probably collapse under the weight, so to do something like that you would have to make the changes throughout your entire body. Your legs, back, arms, everything, so that it could take the strain of lifting without damaging yourself."
"I guess that makes sense."
"I think that is enough for now. Let's go have some lunch."
They drove back to the house and had lunch with everyone else. The afternoon was filled with chores, some target practice and then the swimming hole.
On Tuesday, Robbie came out to the ranch and brought Cody with him. He greeted everyone. He and Trevor took the Jeep out to the training area. Robbie motioned for Trevor to follow him over to some small boulders.
"Sean told me you asked about lifting heavy objects, so I thought we'd see what you can do. Now one of the limits on lifting is your age and size. The size of your body and muscles determine how much you can enhance your strength. You can probably enhance yourself enough to lift about 300 pounds, but that's about it. As you grow older and bigger the upper end of what you can lift will increase. So let's link together and I'll show you what you need to do to lift heavy objects."
Trevor had to place his hand on Robbie to link with him. They were soon linked and Robbie started showing him how to strengthen everything, bones, muscles, and tendons throughout his body. Trevor watched as Robbie finished his changes. They unlinked and Trevor watched as Robbie walked over to a small boulder that looked to be about four feet in diameter. He bent down and got a grip; slowly he stood up, lifting the boulder from the ground and then letting it drop. He saw Robbie's eyes unfocus for a moment and then he let out a breath.
"There, that probably weighed over 500 pounds. Now let me link with you and I will watch as you make the same changes in yourself."
They linked again and Robbie watched as Trevor moved through his body, making the necessary changes. When Trevor finished, he walked over to the rocks and small boulders and started trying to lift different boulders and rocks. He started with those that were too big for him to lift and worked his way down until he found a very large rock that he could pick up. He slowly lifted it from the ground, held it for a few moments, and then let it drop. He looked over at Robbie who was nodding.
"Good job. That probably weighed somewhere between 150 to 200 pounds. Did you have to strain to pick it up?"
"Yeah, a little, it did feel pretty heavy."
"Good. So you now know how to do that. Let's practice for a little while and then we'll move on to other things."
They practiced for half an hour before Robbie called a halt. He grabbed a small backpack and motioned for Trevor to follow him. They walked over to the rock wall where Sean had taught Trevor to throw the magic. Robbie made sure the pack was secure on his back; he looked at Trevor and smiled before leaning against the rock for a few moments and then started to climb up the rock. Grabbing small protrusions and cracks, setting the toes of his boots in other cracks or on protrusions, he climbed up the side of the rock. Robbie looked down at Trevor, who was watching him.
"C'mon, Little Wolf, follow me."
Trevor looked at him in disbelief.
"I've never done this before. How am supposed to climb up there?"
"Take a breath and think about it for a moment; it will come to you."
Trevor watched what Robbie was doing and then an idea came to him. He reached out with his powers and looked at Robbie. He could see that Robbie had enhanced himself and was using that strength to climb. Trevor grinned and started making the changes in himself before he moved up to the wall, and studied the wall for a little bit before he started climbing. As he climbed he found that his enhanced strength in his hands allowed his to grip the same cracks and protrusions that Robbie had used. Robbie looked down and grinned before continuing his climb. For a little while the only sound was their grunts of effort as they made some of the moves as they climbed up the wall. Robbie reached the top and turned to watch Trevor's progress. Trevor slowly made his way up the wall. When he got close, Robbie helped him climb up.
"Well done. I thought you'd figure out what I had done."
"When you started, I didn't know what to do, and then I pushed out with my power and I saw the changes you had made and did the same in my body. Once I started, I found that I could grip the same handholds that you had used and it was not too hard. Although my arms feel like jelly right now."
"That's about right. Very good. Now the reason I had you follow me up, was to have you figure out how I did it, and because we're going to continue with some more training. We are going to see if you can enhance your vision and hearing. Let's have a seat and I'll go over it with you."
They sat down so that they could look out on the surrounding area. There were no trees up here as it was all rock, so they could see quite a ways. They could see some of the hands working in various parts of the property. Over in one direction they could see the house and buildings. Robbie directed his attention that way.
"Once again, watch what I do as I enhance my vision. Link in."
Trevor watched the changes that Robbie made and then copied that in himself. He looked toward the ranch and found that he could see details better than before. He looked around and could see his brothers and dad working around the ranch. Sean came out of the workshop and watched for a few minutes. He then smiled and looked right at Trevor and raised his hand to wave. Trevor smiled as they ended the enhancement.
"So what did you think? Pretty cool, huh? It's kind of like looking through a real good pair of binoculars."
"Yeah, I could see pretty well. Grandfather waved."
"Yeah, I saw him. Okay, now we'll try your hearing; link up again."
They linked again and Trevor watched as Robbie made changes in his ear. Then Robbie showed Trevor how to make the same changes in his ear.
"All right, let's see if you did it right. Tell me what you can hear."
Trevor closed his eyes to concentrate.
"I can hear birds, the breeze in the trees, but that's about it."
"Try a little harder."
Trevor tried again.
"Nope, nothing more."
"Hmmm. Maybe this is one skill you can't do. Not everyone can. Well, no matter, maybe when you are older you will be able to do it. Well, nephew, we may as well go back. There is not much more that we can do. Now it's up to you to practice what you've learned over the past few weeks. Your grandfather and I have given you the basics. It's up to you to keep working at your abilities. Let's head back; I think we're done for now."
Trevor started getting ready to climb back down the wall.
"Trevor... what are you doing?"
"Getting ready to climb back down."
"Well, I guess you could do that, or we can take the trail down. Up to you, see you at the bottom."
"Robbie, you mean we didn't have to climb up here?"
"No, but I like to climb sometimes, and I thought it would be fun. Besides, it gave you some more practice."
"Gee, thanks, Uncle Robbie. Some uncle you are, putting your nephew in such danger."
"I never doubted you, nephew. I knew that you would be able to do it. I just wanted you to know that you could. C'mon, let's go."
They made their way down the trail to the jeep and back to the ranch. Back at the ranch, they talked to Sean about it and he agreed that maybe the hearing enhancement was something that Trevor wouldn't be able to do.
For the rest of the week, the five boys did a lot of swimming, riding, and having fun. On Saturday morning Jake's jeep was loaded up with everyone's gear. All the family was there to say goodbye.
"Son, thank you for bringing the family out here. These few weeks have brought sunshine in my heart. Don't let it be so long before we see you again."
"I won't, Dad. We'll stay in closer touch. I think that will be more important now, and you guys will have to come out and visit us whenever you can. That means you too, Robbie. You need to bring your family out to visit sometime."
"We will, big brother. I don't think I could keep Cody away from his new brothers."
"Grandson, I have been honored to be your teacher. Now it is up to you to continue your training. Keep practicing, and remember call whenever you have any questions about your abilities. One other thing that is important to remember is that using your powers are a last resort. If you rely on it all the time, you won't build up your other non-magic abilities. So don't use your abilities to solve your problems. The more you use them openly, the greater chance that others may see you, and you know we can't have that. However, if you see something happening that is wrong and only your powers can fix it, use them. Because you can heal, you may be tempted to use that. I caution you to hold back as much as possible. I know it is hard as I feel the same when I see those who are sick, but you must let nature take its course and let medicine do its job. Death is a natural part of life. Let Wakan Tanka guide you; he will be there to help you when you need it. Just open your heart to him and the answers will come."
"Well, boys, let's get going; we have a long way to go."
Jake and the boys finished their goodbyes and climbed into the Jeep. The extended family watched as they drove off.
Jake drove to Hardin and took I 90 south into Wyoming. When they got to Buffalo, they stopped for lunch. From there they changed to I 25 south and drove into Casper. They checked into a motel and Jake took them to see Fort Caspar. This was a fort that had been manned during the Civil War by what were known as Galvanized Yankees, Confederate soldiers who were prisoners of war that were given a chance to get out of the prison camps and serve the Union out West. There were several units of these soldiers that served in the West, so that US soldiers from the West could be brought east to fight against the South. These Confederate soldiers preferred serving out West against the Indians, instead of languishing in Northern prisoner of war camps, as long as they did not have to fight against the Confederacy. After touring the fort, they had dinner and then retired to their rooms.
Early the next morning, they left Casper and continued on I 25, arriving in Cheyenne about midday. They stopped for lunch and then continued driving south toward Denver, Colorado. Upon reaching Denver, they came to I 70 and turned west. They started climbing into the Rocky Mountains. As they climbed higher, they all remarked at the beauty of the mountains. Late in the afternoon, they arrived in Vail and found a hotel for the night. After dinner, they walked around for a little while as Jake told them about how this was a popular place for celebrities to come and go skiing in the winter. They got back to the hotel and continued west on I 70 next morning. They stopped for lunch in Grand Junction. After about an hour and a half drive Jake turned south on Highway 191 to Highway 163. Late in the afternoon, they pulled into a hotel called the View Hotel that sat on the rim of Monument Valley. They went to their room and found a balcony that looked over the valley. The five of them stood there as the sun slowly set.
"Trevor, does any of that look familiar?"
"Yeah. I know I've seen it somewhere, but I can't remember where."
"Remember those Western movies that you've watched with me for almost a year now."
"Oh yeah, the John Wayne movies. I remember seeing these mountains in the movie."
"Yep. John Wayne did a lot of Western movies here in Monument Valley. He liked the place. So did his friend John Ford, who directed several John Wayne movies. So they did a lot of filming here."
"It's really pretty here."
"Yes, it is. We are on the Navajo Reservation right now, and this is one of their special places."
"I can see why. I feel good here."
"I do too. Well, let's go have dinner."
When they finished eating, Jake suggested they go for a walk around the hotel. As they neared the trading post, Trevor saw an Indian watching them as they walked up. He stood up and smiled at them before walking forward. As he neared they could see that he looked about as old as Sean did. Around his neck was a large, ornate, turquoise and silver Squash Blossom necklace. On his wrists were turquoise and silver bracelets and on his fingers were turquoise and silver rings. The group stopped as the man neared them. He walked to Trevor and held out his hand. Trevor looked at him for a few moments before extending his hand. The man took Trevor's hand in both of his and looked down at him, studying him, the smile never leaving his face.
"Young one, I am called Cheveyo and I am pleased to meet you."
"Yes sir, thank you, sir. I'm pleased to meet you as well. My name is Trevor."
"Trevor, it is a good name. Do you not have another name?"
Trevor's surprise showed on his face causing the man to chuckle.
"Yes, sir. It is Little Wolf."
"Ah, I thought so."
He turned to Jake.
"Jacob Silver Wolf MacLaren."
"Ah. I know your father. Although it has been a long time since we have spoken. I see him in you."
He turned back to Trevor and smiled, as he did his dark eyes started to glow a little bit. Trevor again was surprised.
"Yes, Little Wolf. I am one like you. A man of the white spirit. I saw the glow of your white spirit as you came near."
"Grandfather said there were others, but I didn't dream that I would meet another like me so soon."
"Yes, as you know there are others like us, and I'm sure you will meet many of them. We are everywhere, so you never know when you will meet one. They may be where you least expect them, but they will help you if you need it. Welcome to the brotherhood, Little Wolf."
He looked at Trevor for a few moments and then glanced at Jake and Zach.
"I see. You are special, you have a bonded companion. This is news that pleases me greatly. Silver Wolf is your Guardian Angel."
Cheveyo let go of Trevor's hand and reached to his own hand. He slipped a ring off his finger and handed it to Trevor. Trevor looked at Jake, who nodded. Trevor took the ring and looked at it. It was made of silver and the turquoise was in the shape of a wolf's head with silver eyes. He put it on his finger and it was very loose. He took it off and started to hand it back.
"Thank you, sir. That is very kind but it's too big."
"No, Little Wolf. I wish for you to have it. It is old and I have had it for a long time. I do not wear it often, but for some reason I wanted to wear it today. It is time for it to go to a new owner. Do not worry about the fit; you will grow into it. Keep it safe until you can wear it and then wear it with pride."
"Thank you, sir. I am honored by your gift. I will wear it proudly... at least when it fits."
"Good bye now. I must leave you and journey home. Good luck, Little Wolf."
They watched as the man got into a truck and drove away. The boys crowded around Trevor to look at the ring. They walked back to their rooms and settled in for the night.
Next morning found them continuing southwest to Cameron, Arizona, whereupon they turned due west on Route 64. Soon the boys could see where they were going, as the eastern end of the Grand Canyon came into view. They stopped at several places along the way where they looked down into the Grand Canyon. Soon they pulled into the South Rim area and Jake pulled up to a building that looked like a huge log cabin.
"Welcome to the El Tovar. This is where we'll be staying for a few days."
"Wow, cool! It's like a giant log cabin."
"It was built in 1905. The lady who designed the El Tovar also designed a lot of buildings and other famous structures around the area. Remember that stone tower we visited on the way in? She did that too. Well, let's get our bags and go check in."
They got the bags that they needed and went inside to check in. When everything was done, they were shown into a large suite with a balcony looking out toward the canyon. They put their bags away and went downstairs to have lunch. After lunch they walked around and looked at everything. Next to the hotel was a trading post filled with lots of Native artwork, clothes and jewelry, called the Hopi House. There were also some other shops that they looked at that had been built originally as art studios, like the Kolb studio and the Lookout studio. These two studios perched over the edge of the rim, and looked down into the canyon. They could see hikers coming up a nearby trail. Jeremy pointed them out.
"Dad, does that trail lead very far?"
"That's Bright Angel Trail, Jeremy. It leads to the bottom of the canyon."
"Can we go down there?"
"Sorry, guys, we're not equipped to hike down. It's a little over nine miles to the bottom."
"Maybe someday we'll come and backpack down to the bottom someday, make it a two or three day trip. It just takes a lot of preparation before you go."
"Yeah, that could be cool."
They continued looking around until their stomachs started growling, and they went back to the hotel to have dinner.
The next morning Jake got everyone up early and told them to wear their boots, jeans, shirts and hats that they had worn while working at the ranch. He also had them put a change of clothes in one of his gym bags. After a quick breakfast he led them over to the Bright Angel trailhead. The boys saw several people standing around, and nearby were several men dressed as they were. The people standing around included young couple who looked to be in their twenties. The other three looked like a man and his wife who were in their late thirties; standing with them was a boy who looked to be about the boys' age. The men dressed like cowboys were going around checking out the tack that was on a herd of mules. They watched as Jake led them over to a man with a clipboard.
"Morning, sir, checking in."
The man made a few marks on the form on the clipboard and looked up smiling and took the gym bag that Jake handed to him.
"Thanks, Mr. MacLaren. If you will wait over there, we should be leaving soon."
Jake led the boys over to where the other people were standing. The boys were nearly jumping up and down.
"Dad, are we going for a horseback ride?"
"Well, not exactly, more like a mule ride."
The boys looked over and saw what they had not noticed before. These weren't horses.
"I guess they kinda look like horses. Is it any different to ride them?"
"No, not really; you guys'll have no problems."
"So where are we going?"
"The only place you need mules to get to: we're going to Phantom Ranch and stay overnight, unless you want to walk there. Then we'll come back up tomorrow and from there head home the next day."
"Wait... what do you mean, come back up?"
"Well, what goes down must come up, unless you guys are planning on homesteading at the bottom of the canyon."
"We're going down into the canyon, yes!"
"Yep. We ride down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch. We'll probably take a break down in Indian Garden, have lunch and then continue to Phantom Ranch. We'll be staying in one of the cabins they have down there."
"Cool. Thanks, dad."
"Yeah, thanks, Uncle Jake."
"You're welcome, boys."
They waited around for about 30 minutes before the head wrangler walked over to the group of riders to get their attention.
"Morning, everyone. My name's Hank, I'll be leading you folks down into the canyon. Working with me will be Reed and Greg. We're going to make a stop at Indian Garden to let you folks stretch a little bit, have a bite to eat and then continue down to the Ranch. The trail is kinda steep, which is why we ride mules. They are some of the most sure-footed animals there are for carrying folks into the canyon. The best way to enjoy the ride is to just relax and take in the sights. You will likely see a lot of different animals as we make our way down. Keep an eye along the canyon walls as we ride down and you'll likely see Bighorn sheep. Has anyone ever ridden a horse or mule before?"
Jake and the boys raised their hands.
"So you all have ridden before?"
"Yep, we are on our way home from my family's ranch in Montana; we just spent a few weeks up there visiting. We got a lot of riding in during that time."
"Great, then I guess I don't need to tell you boys anything about mounting up or controlling the mules; they work pretty much like horses. For everyone else, you get up on the left side of the mule, put your left foot in the stirrup, grab the reins and a handful of his mane right in front of the saddle, and grab the back of the saddle and push off the ground with your right leg as you climb up into the saddle. We have you grab the mane, because sometimes if you grab just the saddle, all that extra weight pulling on the saddle causes it to slip a bit. We'll help anyone who needs it; we even have a platform over there if you want to use it, that will make it easier for you to mount up. Once you are up there, it's really pretty easy with the mules; let the reins just kind of droop on the mule's neck. To stop 'em you just pull back a little, pull to the right and they go right, pull to the left and they go left. Now don't yank on the reins, they get to resenting that. However, for the most part, just enjoy the ride. They pretty much follow the mule in front of them, go when they go, stop when they stop, leaving you just enjoying the ride. Any questions?"
Hank looked around and saw no one had anything.
"Good enough. We'll start with Mr. MacLaren and his boys first, since they already know what to do. C'mon, guys, I'll bring you to your mules."
The five of them followed Hank and he showed them which mules they were to use. Each of them from habit checked the girth, to make sure it was snug. Then they all untied the lead rope from the hitching posts and tied them to the front saddle ring, grabbed the reins and the mane, and quickly mounted up and settled into the saddle. Hank watched what they did and nodded with approval. He turned back to the others.
"Y'all saw how easy that was. Just take your time, and Reed, Greg and I will help you out if you need it."
It took them about fifteen minutes to get the rest of the party mounted up. Once everyone was settled, the three wranglers spaced themselves out in the line. Hank was in the lead, he had Jake and the boys behind him, Greg was behind them, followed by the two other groups, with Reed riding sweep at the end pulling a mule behind him that had several bundles on its pack saddle.
They started down Bright Angel Trail. As they came down the trail. You could see hikers moving to the side to let the mules pass. Hank explained that the rule was that the mules had the right of way on the trail. They slowly made their way down the trail. Parts of the trail were like you would normally see, flat sloping ground, but as they descended, a lot of the trail began to take on the appearance of steps, with what looked like big wooden railroad ties. Jeremy turned to look back at Greg, who was behind him.
"Excuse me, Greg, why is the trail built like that, like steps?"
"It's mostly for two reasons. It cuts down on trail erosion, and it also helps the mules in using the trail."
"Oh, thanks, I was just wondering."
They soon went through a rock arch on the trail and continued down. The trail made a series of switchbacks as it descended into the canyon. As the morning progressed they started seeing more and more hikers climbing toward them. As they made their way down, Hank called for everyone's attention and pointed to the canyon walls across from the trail.
"Look over yonder, right by that big bunch of bushes, Bighorn Sheep."
Everyone's attention was drawn to the area that he had pointed out, and soon they could make out the shape of a small group of Bighorn sheep, including a couple of rams with their great curved horns. They were picking their way along the wall, using trails that only they could see. It looked like they were walking on the side of the wall. Hank stopped the line so that people could watch them for a little bit. Nearby hikers stopped and watched them as well. Hank soon had the group moving once again. They went by what looked like a small open-sided hut where people were sitting and resting. Nearby was a water spigot for the hikers to refill water bottles. They noticed that it was getting pretty warm as they descended into the canyon. It looked like it would turn out to be a fairly warm day. The trail started to take on a gentler slope, and after turning a corner, they could see Indian Garden before them. This was an area surrounded by cottonwood trees with a couple of buildings and several campsites. Hank led them to a series of hitching rails and had everyone dismount and tie their mules up. Jake and the boys left the reins draped on the back of the mule's neck and untied the lead ropes from the saddles and used them to tie them up to the rails, using the proper quick release knot. The wranglers helped the other riders tie their mules off.
"Okay, everyone, we're going to take a break here for an hour or so. Reed and Greg will be right over with some box lunches for each of you and some water. Relax in the shade and enjoy the sandwiches. Make sure you clean up after yourselves and don't leave any trash around. Restrooms are over there; water is plentiful as this is an oasis here in the canyon. Try to stay nearby so that we can get going again when it's time."
The two other wranglers came over with boxes that they had taken off the pack mule and started calling out the names of the riders and giving each of them a box. Everyone sat down and started eating. After finishing up, the boys decided to wander around the area and see what there was to see. The boy who was with his parents watched them get up and walk off and out of sight. As he watched them walk away, he saw one of the pair of twins drape his arm over the blond boy's shoulders, all of them laughing at something the blond boy said. The boy quickly finished his lunch and turned to his dad.
"Dad, can I go look around?"
"Sure, Bryce, don't go far; you heard what Hank said."
"Okay, Dad, I'm going to go catch up with those other boys."
"Okay, be careful."
He jumped up and started walking in the direction the boys had gone. He looked all around, and since he found himself near the restroom, he decided to stop there before continuing his search. After he finished, he made his way around to the various campsites. Most of them were empty. Finally at a far campsite that was surrounded by the cottonwood trees, he heard some low voices. He stopped himself from walking up quickly, and for some reason he slowed down and started walking carefully so as not to disturb the boys. He came to a point where he could see where the voices were coming from. He looked and saw the boys sitting close together on some big rocks, but it was different than he usually saw boys sitting together. For each of the pairs, one boy was sitting in front of the other, and the one in back had his arms around the one in front and was resting his chin on the boy in front's shoulder. He'd never seen boys sit that way before. Then his mouth dropped open as he saw the blond haired boy turn his head and kiss the boy who was holding him... on the lips. Then he saw the other two do the same thing. His eyes opened wide and he let out a startled gasp; the boys jumped up and looked around as he ducked down behind some bushes.
"Did you guys hear that? I thought I heard someone."
Bryce slowly moved back, making sure that he didn't make any noise. The boys started moving in the opposite direction from where Bryce had hidden himself. Once he had moved far enough away, he turned and started walking quickly back to the group. A few minutes after he joined them, the four boys showed up as well.
"Good timing, boys. It's time to get back in the saddle and head on down to the ranch."
Jake and the boys quickly mounted up and waited while the wranglers helped the others get in the saddle. Once everyone was in the saddle, Hank led off once again in the same order as when they started. Bryce watched the four boys as they got in line. As they slowly lined up, Bryce saw the blond haired boy turn around and look right at him. He quickly looked down until his mule started off. When he looked back up, the blond haired boy wasn't looking anymore. They started down the trail, and as they came out of the shade of the cottonwood trees, the hot summer sun was beating down on them. They moved off down the trail. Hank kept them moving as they rode through the hottest part of the trip. The temperature climbed until it was over one hundred degrees. Everyone was sweating and Hank and the other wranglers encouraged the riders to keep drinking water. They dropped lower into the canyon and eventually the Colorado River came into view. Hank led them over the suspension bridge that crossed the river. On the other side they followed a small river that flowed into the Colorado from the north. Just beyond the river they passed Bright Angel Campground where backpackers camped overnight at the bottom of the canyon before continuing their hike. Most of the campsites were taken. They even saw a couple groups of what looked like Boy Scouts setting up camp. They passed the campsites and soon arrived at their destination, Phantom Ranch. Hank led them to a corral where he had them dismount. As soon as they got off the mules, Jake and the boys started to unsaddle their mounts. Greg started to stop them, but Hank held up his hand and turned back to the other people.
"Okay, folks, you can go to the office over there and check in."
The others in the group looked over at Jake and his boys as they were unsaddling their mules, before they left to go check in.
"Hank, where do we put the saddles and blankets?"
"Just put them on the rail over there."
They placed the saddles in a line on the rail and headed back over to the mules.
"Where do you keep the combs and brushes?"
"Don't worry about it, boys. We appreciate the help, but we'll take care of it."
"We don't mind, we're used to doing it. Dad and Grandpa told us that you always take care of your hor... or mule in this case and they'll take care of you."
"Well, your dad and grandfather sound pretty smart, but really we'll take care of everything; that's what we get paid for. Why don't you go ahead and check in? We'll see you around."
"Okay, thanks, Hank."
The boys started after the other riders; Jake was right behind them. They checked in and were directed to the cabin that they would be using for the night. It looked like a lot of rocks from the area were used by the builders. Outside was a picnic table with benches underneath some cottonwood trees. Inside the cabin were two bunk beds and a cot. There was also a table with some chairs. A door led to a bathroom with a toilet and sink. It was pretty hot down in the bottom of the canyon, so they were pretty glad that it was shaded by Cottonwood trees and that there was air conditioning. Nearby was a shower house for use by the guests. They got themselves settled and chose which beds they wanted.
"Dad, can we go exploring?"
"Sure, I'm going to go over to the cantina and get something to drink."
"Can we get something too?"
"Let's go. I'll get you something and you guys can go wandering."
They left for the cantina, Jake got them some drinks, and then the boys left to explore the area. Walking along Bright Angel Creek, they saw the boy who rode down the trail with them, sitting on a rock looking into the creek and throwing some small stones in. Trevor stopped the others.
"I think I know who was spying on us at Indian Garden."
Zach pointed at the boy.
"Yep, I think it was him. Let's go talk to him; he looks bored."
The others nodded in agreement and they walked over to the boy. Bryce heard them come up and turned around. He seemed to be surprised and jumped up quickly, and his foot turned on some loose rocks on the bank, causing him to fall and land on his knees into the shallow water at the creek bank.
He was soaked from the knees down and stood up shaking the water off his hands. He heard the laughter of the boys and looked up at the four boys laughing at him. The blond haired boy was moving toward him.
"Dude, are you okay?"
"Yeeaaah. I'm fine."
"We're sorry we startled you, but I bet that feels pretty good in this heat."
"Yeah, you know... it does."
"C'mon, guys, let's take our boots off and roll up our pants and cool off a little."
"Great idea, Trev."
The other boys walked down the bank and sat down on other rocks nearby so that they could get their boots off. Bryce, got out of the water and took his soaked tennis shoes and socks off and sat them out in the sun to dry off. He sat down and unzipped the lower legs from his pants and laid them next to his shoes.
"Wow, this is pretty cool."
"Yeah, lucky I wore these today. They'll get dry pretty quick in this sun."
"Yep, we have pairs of these back at the room up on the rim, but my dad wanted us to wear our jeans today, because he knew we'd be riding."
Trevor held out his hand.
"I'm Trevor, this is Zach, over there are his twin brother Jared and my brother Jeremy."
"Hi, uh... Bryce. You mean you're not all brothers?"
"Nice to meet you, Bryce. Well, we are like brothers, we do everything together, but Zach and Jared are sons of our Uncle Tom. Where are you from?"
"San Diego, California."
"Cool, we live in Lakewood near Long Beach."
"Yeah, I've been up in Long Beach to the Queen Mary."
"I haven't been to San Diego yet. How old are you?"
"Thirteen, did I hear your dad say that you guys had been up in Montana for a few weeks on a ranch?"
"Yeah, it's Grandfather's ranch in southern Montana. You're about the same age as us. I'll be thirteen in November and Jeremy will turn thirteen in December"
"Zach and I will be thirteen next week."
"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot lo...."
Zach gave Trevor a quick elbow in the ribs, which caused him to grunt.
'Remember, we're not alone.'
'Oh yeah, sorry.'
"Uh, yeah, uh cool. We're going to get back in time for your birthday."
"How big is the ranch?"
"I don't know for sure, but I think that it is several thousand acres. We rode our horses everywhere there and didn't go off of it, but we weren't really trying to see how big it was. It was very cool."
"What did you guys do there?"
"We worked around the ranch feeding animals and helping with a lot of other chores and rode horses all the time, practically everyday. There was this pond, the swimming hole we called it, that we used to go to almost everyday to go skinny dipping."
"Did your dad know?"
"Sure, sometimes he went with us."
"He did!? Wasn't that weird being with your dad like that... you know, naked?"
"Naw, he's part Indian and they ain't worried about things like that. Sometimes Uncle Tom, Uncle Robbie and Grandfather even joined us, but mostly it was just us. We usually rode out there after we had finished our morning chores and lunch, and we would spend a couple hours just swimming and laying around."
"Were you naked the whole time?"
"Pretty much, it doesn't bother us. We've seen each other naked a lot, so we don't care."
"You want to walk around with us, Bryce? We wanted to explore for awhile and see what's here."
"Sure, sounds cool."
The boys quickly got their shoes and socks back on. Bryce stuffed his pant legs in his leg pocket and they started walking down the trail toward the river. As they walked by the campground they saw all the backpackers setting up camp or just hanging around; some of the campers were sitting by the creek cooling their feet off in the water. They continued along the trail past the campsites, and instead of going on the part of the trail that they had come down earlier, they went to their left toward Black Suspension Bridge, which comes down from the South Kaibab Trail. Before they got there, they saw some ruins alongside the trail and stopped to look at them. There were signs in front of them telling a little about the ruins and the ancient people who used to live in the canyon. While they were there they saw some big rafts come down the river and pull up on a beach nearby. The boys watched as they pulled up onto the beach and started unloading stuff. The people on the rafts were all kinds. There were teenagers and others that looked like they were in their twenties and thirties; there were even some older people. Some of them smiled at the boys as they headed off toward the campground or the ranch, hauling their gear. The boys walked down to the water's edge and put their hands in the water. It was really cold, even a little colder than Bright Angel Creek.
They turned around and saw one of the young guys who had been steering the raft.
"Be careful there. Don't go into the water. The current may not look it, but it is pretty swift. It could suck you right into it, and there won't be much you can do."
The guy smiled and waved to them as he walked away. The boys turned back and started to walk back to the ranch; it was getting close to dinner time. When they got back to the ranch, the boys parted ways.
"See ya, Bryce. Are you going to the campfire at the amphitheater later?"
"I don't know; I'll check with my folks."
"Cool, see you there."
Bryce went off to his cabin and the boys went to theirs. Jake was sitting on the bench outside, drinking an ice tea and reading a book in the shade of the trees near the cabin. He looked up as they sat down on the benches.
"Hi, guys. Have a nice walk?"
"Yeah, there are some ruins near the river and we saw a couple of rafts come onto the beach near there. We hung around with that other boy that rode down with us. His name's Bryce."
"Why don't you guys go get cleaned up and take showers to get the sweat and smell of mule off of you, then we'll go get some dinner."
"'Kay, Uncle Jake."
The boys went into the cabins and got a change of clothes and headed over to the shower house. They quickly took their showers and put on clean clothes. Back at the cabin Jake had them put their dirty clothes in the bag he had brought, and they walked over to the cantina for dinner. They boys saw Bryce and his family walking to the cantina. When they got near to them, Bryce walked over to them.
"My dad said that we were going to go to the campfire too."
Bryce's dad came up to them and held his hand out to Jake.
"Hi, I'm David Pearson and this is my wife Michelle. I guess you've met Bryce."
"Nice to meet you both, I'm Jake MacLaren and these are my boys Trevor and Jeremy and my nephews, Zach and Jared. Bryce, it's nice to meet you as well; my boys told me you guys were hanging around together this afternoon."
"Nice to meet you and your family, Jake."
They went inside and it was decided that the boys would all sit together at one table and the three adults at another. During dinner they all got to know one another. David was a hospital administrator at UCSD Medical Center and Sheila was a Real Estate Broker. They lived near UCSD in La Jolla. The boys found out that Bryce went surfing a lot with his dad and went camping in the mountains nearby with his mom and dad too. After dinner and dessert, they left and said they would see each other at the campfire later. Jake and his boys went back to the cabin to relax before going to the campfire later.
That evening they left for the campfire and met up with the Pearsons. The boys sat together while the adults sat together. Bryce found that he liked hanging out with the boys and was having a good time. When they got there, they found that a lot of the people who were camping at Bright Angel Campground were there as well. For the evening program the Ranger told stories about some of the early adventurers who had traveled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and about the people who used to live in the bottom of the canyon. After the campfire was over, the two families headed to the canteen to get drinks. After they got their drinks the boys decided to walk around a little bit. It was a nice evening; the temperature was around seventy degrees. Without thinking about it, Trevor took Zach's hand in his as they walked, completely forgetting about Bryce. There was a slight gasp from Bryce as he saw them, and Trevor dropped Zach's hand and quickly turned toward Bryce, who was looking at him.
"Are... are you guys homos?"
Trevor's eyes tightened as he looked at Bryce. Zach grabbed his hand and squeezed gently. Trevor looked over and Zach shook his head slightly. Trevor took a deep breath and looked back at Bryce.
"We prefer gay, and yes, we're boyfriends."
Bryce looked nervous as he looked down at their joined hands. They almost couldn't hear him when he spoke again.
"Ho... how did you know, you were, uh... that way... gay?"
"I just realized last year, that while we could see that a girl was cute and all that, we preferred looking at cute boys, and when Zach asked me to be his boyfriend, I said yes."
"The same thing happened when Jared asked me."
"I... .think I mi... might be, uh... .gay too."
"Are you sure, for a lot of guys, it's just normal to feel like that when they're our age, but about the same time that they get into high school they change and find out that they like girls instead."
"So maybe you guys are that way too. I mean you'll start liking girls and all that."
"No, we know for certain, we like boys much better, although there's only one that interests me."
Trevor looked around and then leaned to Zach and gave him a quick kiss. Bryce watched them.
"I've never seen a boy kiss another boy, well... "
"Except for a few hours ago at Indian Garden?"
"Well... uh... .I... .didn't mean... I was just... "
"Chill, dude. It's okay. At least you aren't one of the homophobic jerks that would start yelling and freaking out when they find out we're gay."
"Does your dad know?"
"Yes, so does Zach's parents, our grandparents, basically everyone who is family and is close to us. A couple of our friends know, and I think a lot of the kids in our school think we are, although we haven't confirmed it for them and we don't go around making out in public, but so far we haven't had too much trouble. The ones that don't like it can go piss up a rope. We don't care. We're close and we got each other's back."
"Do you ever worry someone will find out."
"A little bit, but if it happens, it happens; we don't worry too much about it. Besides we all know martial arts and can take care of ourselves."
They walked along for a little while before Bryce spoke again.
"So do you guys... uh, do it?"
"No, no, no, we don't do anything like that. Sure, we mess around a little, but we don't do that! Maybe when we're older, but not right now."
"Oh, I thought all ho... gay guys did that."
"None that I know of. We've heard the same stories you have, I guess, but we aren't in any hurry to get into that. We're happy with what we have."
Bryce looked over at Jeremy when he said that and smiled. He and Jared were holding hands now as well. About this time they were getting close to the cabins and the couples quit holding hands.
"Well, goodnight, Bryce, we're going to go to our cabin and get some rest. It's been a long day."
"Night and thanks."
"Sure, have a nice night, see you in the morning."
They waved to each other and went into their cabins. Jake was lying on the cot reading a book; he looked up as they entered.
"Did you have a nice walk?"
"Yep, it's nice out."
"Well, why don't you guys get to bed? We'll be getting up early so we can have breakfast and then get on our way up the trail."
"'Kay, Dad, goodnight."
Each of the boys gave Jake a hug and stripped to their underwear and got into bed. Jake got ready for bed himself and soon was asleep like the boys.
Early the next morning they got up, went for breakfast with the Pearsons, and met the wranglers at the corral. The mules were all saddled up. Jake handed his bag over to Reed, who packed it on the mule. The other riders came up and handed their bags over as well. Hank gathered everyone.
"Good morning, folks. I hope everyone had a nice evening here at the ranch. Let's mount up and get back up top."
The people went over to the mules that the wranglers assigned to them and mounted up. Once everyone was ready, Hank formed them up into a line and they started out. As they passed the campground, they saw that most of the campsites were empty. The sun had already started to get warm as they made their way across the Silver Bridge. They passed a few hikers on the trail. They arrived at Indian Garden in the late morning and stopped for lunch. The five boys sat together and talked about things they liked to do. After lunch, Hank got them back in the saddle and the trip continued. They had about four miles to the top but it was all uphill. As they rode they passed more groups of hikers. By late afternoon they arrived at Bright Angel trailhead. Hank led them over to the corral. He and Greg started unsaddling them as Reed got everyone's bags unpacked. The boys exchanged email addresses with Bryce and followed Jake back to their room at the hotel. Once there, they got cleaned up and went to dinner. As it had been a long day, everyone was tired and went right to bed.
Jake got everyone up early, so they could get on the road as soon as possible. They had about an eight-hour drive, and part of that would be across the Mojave Desert. They headed south to Williams and then west on I 40. By midday they were driving across the Mojave, and the outside temperature gauge on the car said it was 120 degrees. They stopped for lunch in Barstow, where they all drank almost a pitcher of ice tea each. Jake called Tom to let him know where they were. After lunch they headed south on I 15. Two and a half hours later they pulled into their driveway. When Jake turned off the Jeep, the door opened and Tom and Terry came out. The twins ran to their parents and hugged them. After everyone had exchanged hugs, they went inside. Tom went out back to start cooking the steaks while Terry busied herself in the kitchen. The boys helped all the while telling of everything they did on the trip back. Jake went out to help Tom. As he came out Tom handed him a beer from the small fridge.
"So is everything okay now... with Trevor?"
"Yeah, now he just has to practice what he learned."
"It's still hard to get my head around it. I know what I saw, but I don't know... it's still hard."
"Yeah I know, but trust me, it's real. I saw more of what he and my dad can do during some of the training that dad had me help with, and it is fantasy, swords and sorcery kind of stuff. If I didn't know it was real, I would have sworn that it was special effects from a movie set."
"Well, I'm glad everyone's home safe. We have the twins' birthday next week, and then back to school soon afterwards."
"Why don't we have just the family over here for the party? I know it's a big birthday, thirteen and all, but it would be nice for it to just be the family."
"I agree and the boys probably won't mind that at all."
Jake clapped his hand on Tom's back.
"It's good to be home"