The first rays of dawn winked over the campsite, and Dillon watched a wisp of steam stream against the orange and red sky.
Coffee was almost ready.
“That smells good.” Greg slid onto the log beside his son, rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Going to be another long day.”
Dillon nodded. It would also be the first day he and his pa rounded up cattle without his older brother, Jacob.
“What do you think Jake is doing right now, Pa?”
Greg watched the fire for a few moments, silent. Finally, he shuffled his boots in the dirt and grunted. Might have sniffled.
“I reckon the same as us — making some coffee, getting ready for a long day on the trail.”
Dillon nodded again. That was probably right. Only Jake’s trail was different now — a trail that led to the west coast, chasing gold. Chasing fortune.
Leaving the family behind.
It was going to be hard managing the ranch without Jake, but Dillon feared the toll it would take on his pa went beyond the physical strain.
But the old man would never stand in the way of his boys’ dreams, and he’d never say a bad word against either one of them.
“Let’s get moving,” Greg said.
They hadn’t even had their coffee.
The first night in the saddle without Pa and Dillon had been a strange one for Jake, and he’d ridden longer than he intended.
He couldn’t decide where it was safe to camp, for one thing.
For another, he really didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts, not after twenty years living and working with Pa, and almost as long with Dillon.
At least in the saddle, there were decisions to make, albeit small ones, and things to look at.
When he had finally stopped for the night, darkness had long since fallen, and he wasn’t sure where he was.
And it didn’t matter. He’d spread out his bedroll, built a small fire, and fallen right to sleep.
Now, as morning blinked to life, Jake was feeling groggy. He wanted to get moving, put more miles between him and home, make sure he wouldn’t turn back.
He stretched and pulled himself to his feet, every muscle aching, body and mind dreading the long ride ahead.
Jake needed his morning coffee.
He shuffled to his horse and flipped open the side of the saddlebag where he carried his kettle and coffee grounds.
The kettle was there, and so was the heft of the grounds. But the grounds themselves … well, they were nowhere to be seen.
Jake stood there laughing as the new sun splashed over him, the brick his pa had left for him smiling back from the saddlebag.
The old man always had been a jokester.
“I’ll miss you, too, Pa,” Jake said.