Just before noon, Claire arrived at Unalakleet checkpoint in time to catch Dillon in the process of packing to leave. "Hey!" she called as volunteers led her team to a parking spot a few yards away.
He walked over. "Hey yourself."
The spooked look she saw on his face at McGrath had returned. She masked her concern behind a tired smile. "Tough run?" she asked.
He expelled a heavy breath. "The hallucinations are hell."
Claire smirked and lifted her hood to expose the goose egg on her forehead. "Tell me about it. I ducked a powerline that wasn't there coming into Ruby."
"Ouch." He leaned in and brushed his chapped lips to the edge of the bruise.
"What about you?" she asked when he pulled back.
"It's not important."
"That bad, huh?"
He didn't answer.
Claire shrugged to cover the sting of his unwillingness to talk. "Well, I'd better get my dogs taken care of," she said and turned away to grab a snubline.
Dillon took her arm and coaxed her to face him. When she did, his haunted eyes implored her to understand. "If I don't talk about it," he said, his words measured, "then it's not important."
Yes. She did understand. She knew how it felt to carry a wound so deep that bottling it up was the only way to deal with it. And she understood the destructive consequences of keeping it locked inside to fester.
Lifting her chin, she pressed her mouth to his. Like kissing a snowman wearing medicated lip balm. "When you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen."
He gave a brief nod. "Take care of yourself out there."
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