Unearthly Page 60

“Let’s go.” I flash him an innocent smile. His eyes narrow.

“What’s with you?”

“Nothing.”

He frowns. He can always tell when I lie. It’s annoying when there’s so much I have to hide from him. I sigh.

“My mom’s back,” I confess.

“And you don’t want her to see you with me?” he asks, offended. I glance over my shoulder, out the window of the truck where I clearly see Mom’s face in the front window. I wave at her, then look back at Tucker.

“No, silly,” I say. “I’m stoked to learn fly-fishing, that’s all.”

He still doesn’t believe me, but he lets it slide. He tips his Stetson at Mom through the windshield. Her head vanishes from the window. I relax. It’s not that I don’t want Mom to see me with Tucker. I just don’t want to give her the chance to question him. Or question me about what I think I’m doing with him. Because I have no idea what I’m doing with Tucker Avery.

“Fly-fishing is easy,” Tucker says about two hours later, after he’s shown me all the elements of fishing from the relative safety of the grass along the Snake River. “You just have to think like a fish.”

“Right. Think like a fish.”

“Don’t mock,” he warns. “Look at the river. What do you see?”

“Water. Stones and sticks and mud.”

“Look closer. The river’s its own world of fast and slow, deep and shallow, bright and shadowed. If you look at it like that, like a landscape where the fish live, it’ll be easier to catch one.”

“Nicely said. Are you some kind of cowboy poet?”

He blushes, which I find completely charming.

“Just look,” he mumbles.

I gaze upriver. It does seem like its own little corner of paradise. There are golden motes of sunlight cutting through the air, deep pockets of shade along the bank, aspen and cottonwoods rustling in the breeze. And above everything else is the sparkling river. It’s alive, rushing and bubbling, its green depths full of mysteries. And supposedly full of wonderful, tasty fish.

“Let’s do it.” I lift the fly rod. “I promise, I’m thinking like a fish.”

He snorts and rolls his eyes.

“All right, fish.” He gestures to the river. “Right there’s a sandbar you can stand on.”

“Let me be sure I’ve got this right. You want me to stand in the middle of the river?”

“Yep,” he says. “It’ll be a bit chilly, but I think you can handle it. I don’t have any waders your size.”

“This isn’t another one of your ploys to have to rescue me, is it?” I tilt my head and squint at him in the sun. “Because don’t think I’ve forgotten the Jumping Tree.”

“Nah,” he says with a grin.

“Okay.” I take a step into the river, gasping at the cold, then another and another until I’m standing up to just above my knee. I stop on the edge of the narrow sandbar that Tucker pointed out, trying to get a firm footing on the smooth river rocks under my feet. The water is cool and strong against my bare legs. I straighten my shoulders and adjust my hands on the rod the way he showed me earlier, pull the line through the guides and wait as he wades out next to me and starts to tie on the fly.

“This is one of my favorites,” he says. His hands move quickly, gracefully, to fasten on the bit of fluff and hook meant to look like an insect on the water. “Pale Morning Dun.”

“Nice,” I say, although I have no clue what he’s talking about. It looks kind of like a moth to me. To a fish it’s supposed to look like prime rib, apparently.

“All set.” He releases the line. “Now try it like we practiced on the grass. Two beats back to two o’clock, one beat forward to ten. Pull out a little line, and back again. Once you cast the line forward, relax it to about nine o’clock.”

“Ten and two,” I repeat. I raise the rod and cast the line backward, to what I hope is about two o’clock, then whip it forward.

“Gently,” coaches Tucker. “Try to hit along that log over there, so the fish thinks it’s a nice juicy bug.”

“Right, think like a fish,” I say with an embarrassing giggle. I try it. Ten and two, ten and two, over and over, the line looping around and around. I think I’m getting it, but after about ten minutes no fish has even looked at my Pale Morning Dun.

“I don’t think I’m fooling them.”

“Your line is too tight—your fly is dragging. Try not to cast like windshield wipers,” says Tucker. “You have to pause on the back cast. You’re forgetting to pause.”

“Sorry.”

I can feel him watching me, and frankly it’s wrecking my concentration.

I suck at fly-fishing, I realize. I don’t suck because I’m holding back; I just plain suck.

“This is fun,” I say. “Thanks for bringing me.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of my favorite thing. You wouldn’t believe some of the fish I’ve caught in this river: brook trout, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, some brown trout. The native cutthroat are getting rarer, though; the introduced rainbows breed them out.”

“Do you throw them back?” I ask.

“Mostly. That way they grow to be bigger, smarter fish. Better to catch next time. I always release the cutthroat. But if I catch the rainbows I’ll take them home. Mom makes a fierce fish dinner, just fries them up in butter with some salt and pepper, a bit of cayenne sometimes, and it almost melts in your mouth.”

“Sounds heavenly.”

“Well, maybe you’ll catch one today.”

“Maybe.”

“I have tomorrow off,” he says. “You want to meet me at the butt crack of dawn and hike up to watch the sun rise from the best place in Teton? It’s kind of a special day for me.”

“Sure.” I have to admit that as distractions go, Tucker is top-notch. He just keeps asking me to do things and I just keep saying yes. “I can’t believe summer’s going by so fast. And I thought it would drag on forever. Ooh, I think I see a fish!”

“Hold on,” groans Tucker. “You’re just waving it around now.”

He steps toward me at the exact moment that I cast the line back. The fly catches his cowboy hat and jerks it off his head. He swears under his breath, lunges to grab it, and misses.

“Whoops! I’m so sorry.” I draw the line in and manage to snag the hat and free it from the hook. I hold it out to him, trying not to giggle. He looks at me with a little mock scowl and snatches it out of my hands. We both laugh.

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