Home > Where We Belong(5)

Where We Belong(5)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

A minute or so later, the side door opened on the house next door, and a man stood in the open doorway. He seemed shocked to see me. Which was weird in a way, because I was in Aunt Violet’s yard, not his, and I couldn’t figure out why he was looking at me like he’d suddenly found me in his living room. Our eyes locked for a minute, and then I looked away.

He was an old guy. Not old like bent-over old. He was tall and kind of reedy thin, and he looked like he was in good enough shape and all. But his hair was mostly gray, and he had a hint of five o’clock shadow, just enough that I could see his beard would be white if he ever let it grow out. He was wearing a nice gray suit, with a light blue dress shirt and a striped dark blue tie, but it was loosened. The top button of his shirt was undone, and the tie was pulled out. To give him more room to breathe, I guess.

He stared at me for another minute, and then he looked at his dog. He got this puzzled look on his face, and I could tell, just from that look, that it was weird for his dog to still be over by the fence. The dog was slapping his tail against the fence like crazy now, but I could see that wasn’t enough.

“Rigby,” the man said.

He didn’t yell it or even call it out, really. He just said it, like you’d say any word in a sentence.

That broke the spell, and the dog ran to the man and sat in front of him, tail swinging. And he raised his face up almost pretty close to the man’s face, because he was honestly big enough to do that.

And, of course, by this time, Sophie’s siren had gone off.

The guy looked around, but not really at us. I don’t think he’d even noticed Sophie yet. If he had, he didn’t let on. I don’t think he imagined that a sound like that could come out of a small person. Most people don’t. He looked around some more, like he was about to see an ambulance or a fire truck coming up the street. He even looked up, like it might be something overhead, but I have no idea what. Then he looked down, and his eyes locked on Sophie.

Wait.

I could see his face twist up a little. Like he could stand the noise better if it was coming from a what, not a who. People are like that. They figure a machine or a siren doesn’t know any better, can’t help the sound it makes. Once they know it’s Sophie, they want it to stop.

The moment dragged out. Just long enough to make my face feel cold. Then he turned on his heel and went back into the house, Rigby following with his tail still swinging. The door slammed shut.

I got up and went inside the house, leaving Sophie alone for just a minute, to get Aunt Vi ready for what we were all about to go through. It was actually pretty okay to leave Sophie, because she wasn’t going to be doing anything except exactly what she was doing already. For just about… ever.

I found Aunt Vi in bed, a feather pillow over her ears.

I touched her shoulder, and she jumped a mile. Then she sat up straight and looked at me with this look of utter misery on her face, and I felt bad for her. I did. I would have taken Sophie and gone away and left her alone if we had one other place in the world we could go.

I took two earplugs out of my shirt pocket and held them out to her.

“They work,” I said. “Really. Not like there’s no noise at all, but they make it sound so far away, it hardly matters. You have to knead them around in your fingers till they’re soft and then make them back into a bullet and press them in till it seals. You’ll be surprised.”

She took them off my hand and smiled weakly.

“Thank you, darling,” she said.

Then I got up and left, because I pretty much knew she’d be happier alone with her misery. I was that same way, so I understood.

I went back outside and sat on the lounge near Sophie and softened up my own earplugs. I had one in place when the side door of the man’s house opened again, and he looked out. Looked at me. Then at Sophie.

Just when I was wondering how long he could stand there and stare, he walked over to the fence, Rigby wagging at his heels. Sophie’s siren wound down as they got closer to the fence.

He’d changed into a black sweater, but he still had his fancy suit pants on. And shiny black leather shoes.

He stood there looking down on Sophie, who was quiet now. Rigby had come right up to the fence and was sitting with his head stretched out, just inches on the other side of the fence, and Sophie had her hands wrapped in the chain link, her face as close to the dog’s as she could get it.

The man looked at me again, and I looked away. Something about the way he stared. I didn’t like it, and I couldn’t hold it long. There was a harshness to it. Like he expected something and was trying to pull it right out of me.

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