Bruce shifted to look at Rick, who was sitting near the fire pit they had built a few hours ago. “Rick?” He answered from his position, reclined against a tree. It had taking some coaxing, but the kid had finally dropped the ‘mister’ when he addressed Bruce; it didn’t seem right, given the situation.
Rick averted his eyes and didn’t say anything for a minute, focusing instead on twisting a stick through one of the loops of his shoelaces. “..my parents are gonna be really mad at me, aren’t they?” Rick was so quiet when he asked, Bruce had to take a moment to process.
“Oh, Rick- no they won’t. I promise you that they won’t be anything but relieved to see you.” But if they see him with with their child, they would be horrified. Bruce sat up and leaned forward to show Rick that he was sincere, but Rick still wasn’t looking at him. He was still focused on his feet, on the dirt, and on not letting Bruce see that he was crying.
“Hey, no, it’s okay Rick-” Bruce cursed that he should be so awkward and unsure about how to comfort people and remained frozen, scared to upset Rick any further.
Kids could have severe emotional whiplash but, in this case, he could understand it. Rick had wandered away from his parents and now he was scared that he was going to catch hell for getting lost. The reality was that his parents were probably at least a hundred times more scared that he had died or was kidnapped or any number of terrible things.
Fortunately for Bruce, Rick was less concerned with ‘situation appropriate behavior’, and found comfort crying into Bruce’s shirt, again. Bruce had nothing but sympathy and held him tightly as he shifted to lean back against the tree. Once Rick had cried himself into an exhausted sleep, Bruce set him down on his old sleeping bag, away from the fire. This might be the only time he had to catch any food for them, and though he hated the idea of leaving Rick unattended, it was necessary.
Only two more days.