When he left, I relaxed against the wall where I'd put my apple. I had only one rule about offerings. They had to decay.
"Why?" Sallie had asked.
"So no one can find it. Remember, 'Leave no signs.'"
"That was years ago. When this was a hiding place."
"Well, what if someone needs it again? What if we need it?"
"You thinking ecological disaster? I'd rather die outside than get sealed in a hole."
"I guess I would, too."
When I was little, I also used to ask my parents, "What if someone else finds our cave? What if it's the rangers, and they open it to other people?"
"What if they do?" Mom had responded. "There's nothing here to see. And it's pretty out of the way."
"No one's going to ruin our cave," Dad had assured me. "Do you know how many caverns there are to explore? Just in this park? No one wants ours."
It was the kind of question you worried about when you were 5. Then you forgot it.
"What if Sallie and I never have children?" I'd asked my parents later, when I was maybe 7 or 8. "What if something terrible happens, and we never grow up? Who'll come here then?"
First, Sallie had insisted that Mom and Dad would have other kids. "They're not that old," she'd said. That didn't make sense at the time though it did when I was older. Next, she'd insisted it didn't matter. "There are other families."
"How many?" I'd pester Mom, Dad, and Sallie. But they could never tell me.
"Lots," Dad had said
"Enough," Mom had added.
"You really can't worry about it," Sallie had explained.
But I'd never seen anyone else in the cave. Not one member of any other family. So I didn't really believe them.
Still, as I got older, I turned my questions off as easily as I turned off my light when Cory left to "explore." And I didn't click it on again till I heard him coming back.
"You OK?" he asked.
"No. What made you think that?"
"Well, you're just there sitting in the dark...."
"Yeah," I said, cutting him off. Instead, I said, "Let's look around."
Cory had walked the length of the cave, but I knew there were things he hadn't seen. Some were odd details my parents had shown us. Others were things Sallie and I had discovered.
My mother wasn't really adventurous. She visited the cave because it was tradition, and she'd first shown Dad the cave when she was sure they were going to marry. She wanted him to know about that part of her life. But she wasn't all that interested.
"What if you got divorced?" I'd asked her at some point. "Does that mean Dad can't come here anymore?"
"We're not getting divorced," Mom had told me. "But if for some unknown reason something ever happened to me, and your father still wanted to come to the cave, I'm sure my family wouldn't stop him. In fact, he could have my visiting privileges."
Which is how, I suspected, other families had stopped visiting the cave. It just wasn't important.
Cory and I explored till almost 3:00. A couple of times, I thought he was finished, but he kept finding things he wanted to look at. I guess someone could explore even a cave this size for years without seeing it all. You could spend weeks underground if you had food and were dressed warmly enough.
"You're right," Cory finally admitted. "I should've worn my jacket. The temperature gets to you."
Instead of saying "I told you," I said it was time for lunch. So we crawled outside and sat in the sun eating canned tuna and peaches. Of course, Cory immediately took off his shirt.
"To warm up," he joked, and it was hot. I went down to my thermal shirt quickly, and with him wearing so little, and me not much more, I was far more aware of my body than I wanted to be.
"Who are these people?" Cory asked as we were eating. "You must know more about their tribe than I've been able to read."
I told him I hated the word "tribe." It had too many connections with "wampum" and "war paint." And I told him "clan" reminded me of Scottish weddings. I was comfortable with "families," and, from what I knew, that's what most of these groups were - three or four large, intermarried families. They lived together for their safety.
"But where did they come from?" Cory went on. "I know about Asia and the land bridge and the Ice Age. But why this cave? How did they find it?"
"Why are you interested?" I asked, mostly from curiosity.
"Why?" he repeated, almost reflexively.
"Yeah. What are you studying in San Francisco?"
"Medicine," he said, easily enough. "And some archeology."
I'd thought the last from his books. And Sallie was studying medicine, so I figured that's how she knew Cory.
"Then you probably know about these people," I went on. "Why else would you be here?"
"I know research stuff. The things you read online or in books. But you know how much more there is. I'm also interested in medical anthro."
"Is that a field?" I asked.
"It's part of folk medicine. A lot of people are still uncomfortable seeing it as science. But there are things people once knew - and that were used for centuries - that've now been replaced by science. We're trying to go back."
"To find things we lost."
"As I said. Medicine."
"But why here? What's in this cave?"
Cory surprised me by telling me something I didn't know. "We think these tribes had some interesting shamen. They didn't bring back the dead or anything. Probably didn't cure cancer. But they looked at things in ways we somehow can't."
Suddenly, Cory didn't sound like a frat boy, and he caught me staring at him.
"What?" he asked. "Did I just say 'tribes' again?"
He had, and I told him so. But I was bluffing.
"What do you want me to call them? Because some of these groups were tribes - they went up to thousands of people. That's a lot of intermarriage in what you want to call 'families.'"
He looked at me and laughed. "Is 'intermarriage' too nice a word?'"
"I'm the youngest of four brothers," he went on. "I can watch my language when I have to. But I usually don't."
"Your mother die young?" I asked.
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
I'd meant it as a joke but now was embarrassed. "I'm sorry."
He shrugged. "It was a long time ago. And Dad never quite remarried, so I was raised by him and my brothers."
Because I didn't want to stare at Cory's body, I was mainly looking in his eyes. So he was staring pretty intently in mine. We were sitting in the shade, so we both had our sunglasses off.
"These 'people'..." I said, going back to our last safe subject. "These 'families' came here hundreds of years ago..."
"How many hundreds?"
"Who knows? Scientists'll tell you one thing. Family stories can only go back so far."
"How do you know?"
"It's common sense. You can only repeat something for so many generations."
"Religion lasts longer than that."
"Because it's written down. Our family stories have only been written in the last few hundred years. Some less than that. Before that, they were told. And who knows how much was changed?"
"You got me there," he admitted.
"How much do you really want to know about the Mogollon?" I asked.
"I'm not even sure how to pronounce their name," he said, grinning. "I keep hearing it different."
"I know that. But Spanish from Mexico or from Europe? Not that I speak either."
"From Europe... Spain. Muh - gih - yan."
"Almost." I tried again, and Cory repeated the word. Several times.