Biscuits sat in a ceramic bowl in the center of the table and Maddie and Jed ate scrambled eggs as the five newcomers entered the room.
"What did you do to Charlie?" asked Ted. The other four stood behind him, their eyes echoing the question. They wore clean jeans and button shirts, though the clothes hung on their slight frames loosely. Ted's long arms extended past the ends of his sleeves and the pants came to his ankles.
"We can try to find you some larger clothes soon, Ted. Good morning, by the way. I hope you slept well. Eggs and other breakfast items are in the kitchen. We're a little short of meat right now, but we might have a little ham left. Make yourself something then clean up." Maddie smiled. "In about an hour Claire will get you assigned to chores around the ranch if you'd like to stay. We'll try to find something you like."
Jed looked around at the small group. "Are y'all sure you don't want to milk goats?"
Maddie poked him with an elbow. "It's your week. Get over it."
"What happened to Charlie?" Ted's deep voice didn't waver and he stood straight behind one of the chairs.
Jed crossed his arms. "Charlie chose not to stay with us, and that's okay. Each of you can make the same decision at any time. In Charlie's case, August is escorting him to the other side of the mountains and he is free to continue as he sees fit." He looked at Sam. "You can keep the bullets, Sam."
"You didn't kill him?" Ted still didn't move.
Jed sighed. "Ted, he threatened me, but did me no harm. As a matter of fact, he's the one with a knot on his head. Life is a precious thing, Ted. I can fix a lot of broken things, but I cannot give life to a dead person. So I try not to take a life if I can help it, unless it's for food or a fight I didn't start. Zombies, of course, are the exception. They pose an immediate and deadly danger. Charlie was no threat and August will take care of him."
Jed stood up, his eyes narrowed. "However, let me be clear. If Charlie returns with the intent to harm anyone, all bets are off. Then he is a danger. I won't murder, but I will protect." He picked up his dishes. "I have goats to milk, so help yourselves to breakfast. I'll see everyone around dinnertime, I think." He leaned over and kissed Maddie. "I'll be in the woods today, checking traps." Jed carried his dishes through the kitchen door.
"Well, that could have gone better," said Maddie. She looked at the new residents of Selah Ranch. "I think his feelings are hurt, but he'll get over it. He's very sensitive. Let's give him a few minutes, and then I'll show everyone around the kitchen."
It wasn't long until everyone fit into their own routine at Selah Ranch.Sam was as good a mechanic as he claimed. The hydroponics flourished under Ted's care and he didn't mention the Pacific Ocean again, though he occasionally gazed to thewest, toward the unseen ocean. Nancy and Linda rode with Shelly and Claire gathering and taming horses. Fae was everywhere, briefly. Maddie organized everyone, her sleeves rolled up in every hard job on the Ranch, Jed at her side. Jed still milked the goats, unless someone else volunteered - which they didn't.
August and Fae found the best job on the Ranch.
"Jed didn't say anything about a lake full of trout, August, but it is beautiful here. Way prettier than the river I fished in." Fae tossed her line into the water again, the small boat rocking in the cold blue water of the lake.
August grinned at her. "It's one of my favorite places, being on this lake. On clear days, like today, you can see the morning sun reflect off the snow on the mountain. You'll see it as soon as the mist rises. I think you'll like it."
Fae tugged on her line to lure the fish in. "Thanks for inviting me, August."
August sighed, contentment on his face. His relaxed features made him look much younger than normal. "It's nice to have company. Jed gets so tied up with other things he doesn't come with me much."
Fae tilted her head to the side, looking at August from the corner of her eyes. "You don't have any kids of your own? I mean, you treat Jed like one of your kids, but he said something about his Dad on that first day."
August smiled at Fae. "No, Fae, I don't have any children. I've known Jed his whole life though, and his Dad and my brother were best friends for a long time."
"You have a brother? What happened to him? Did he die, like my Dad?" Fae asked, a slight whisper of sadness in her voice.
August shook his head. "No, Fae. He's around here somewhere. He doesn't live at the ranch, but he lives near us." He leaned forward, pretending to whisper. "He might be watching us from the trees."
Fae's eyes widened and she looked at the shore. "Really?" she asked.
August chuckled and sat back, giving his line a small tug. "Well, Lone Wolf could be." He looked toward the trees and chuckled again.
"Lone Wolf? Wow, that's a real Indian name, isn't it?" Fae's line jerked and she tugged to set the hook. "Hey! I got one!"
The fish fought hard. Fae gave the line a little more slack and let the fish run then reeled him in again.
"Do you need help, Fae?" asked August after Fae fought the fish for a while.
She grinned broadly. "Oh, no, this is the best! I got him!"
August readied the net as Fae finally reeled the tired fish in. He scooped it from the water, the fish splashing them as it came up in the net.
"Wow. That's a nice trout, Fae! It's close to ten pounds!" August beamed at her.
Fae giggled with delight, holding out her left arm. "It's about as long as my arm! Look!"
"Nice job," August smiled at her.
"Let's catch some more!" said Fae, baiting her hook and tossing it back into the water.
By the time the two of them rowed to shore, the sun reflected from the snow on the mountains and they had enough fish for a good dinner for everyone.
They crossed into the shadow of the trees when a voice greeted them. "Now, that's a nice catch!"
Fae jumped and moved closer to August. He wrapped an arm around her and grinned at his brother. "You were watching! Fae, this is my elder brother, Lone Wolf."
Lone Wolf's dark hair hung loose to his broad shoulders, where it rested on his buckskin shirt. In the shadows of the trees, the buckskin was lighter than Lone Wolf's own sun-darkened skin. His nose was narrow, but not sharp. His bronze lips formed a perpetual smile, the sides of his mouth lifted on the ends, showing small laugh lines in the corners. In some ways, Lone Wolf's eyes were like August's eyes, clear and bright. But Lone Wolf's eyes were deep, dark pools with no bottom, sparkling with an inner light that contained infinite laughter.
Lone Wolf shook Fae's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Fae. August has talked about the newcomers to Selah Ranch for two weeks now. He didn't tell me how pretty your red hair was though." Lone Wolf winked at her.
Fae giggled. "You look like an Indian, just like your name sounds."
Lone Wolf stood taller, puffing out his chest. "Because we are Indians, aren't we August?"
"How come we never see you at the ranch?" Fae asked.
Lone Wolf chuckled. "Because I am a 'lone' wolf, Fae. I'll show up eventually. Consider me the forest patrol for the family."
"Oh. Well, I hope to see you around more. Maybe you can go fishing with me and August next time." She turned her head and pointed at the string of fish. "We had a good catch this time." When she looked back, Lone Wolf was gone. Fae looked around, puzzled.
August chuckled. "He does that all the time, but you never get used to it."