Home > Take Me with You(10)

Take Me with You(10)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

They were leaning with their backs against the garage in the hot sun. Their hair was freshly combed. Almost too neat and perfect to be real. Their clean white shirts were tucked into their shorts all the way around. Two firsts, August thought. The first time their shirts were clean, and the first time they stayed tucked in. Then again, for your shirt to untuck, you have to move. The boys weren’t moving.

Beside each boy sat a small, ancient, hard-side suitcase. One was dark green, the other a battered tan with one dark-maroon vertical stripe. August looked away quickly because it was too sad.

When he pulled back up in front of the garage, the boys had not moved. Wes had not moved. It was as though August had thrown them all into a state of suspended animation by failing to make—or at least announce—a clear decision.

August shifted out of gear and stepped on the parking brake. Wes dropped to the ground and looked underneath the rig for a long time. Checking for leaks, August assumed. August braved another look at the boys. They reminded him of children alone on a train platform during the war, waiting for possible strangers to possibly transport them to safety. Hoping for rescue, despite their parents being left behind. Not that he had ever witnessed such a scene with his own eyes. But still.

Henry turned his head to look off into the distance, and, in doing so, he caused one lock of his otherwise perfectly combed hair to fall out of place. It trailed onto his forehead, the tiniest possible rebellion. As August watched, Seth pulled a black plastic comb from his shorts pocket, leaned over closer to his brother, and combed the errant lock back into position.

August’s heart broke. Cleanly and decisively. And now he had to go break theirs.

A strong pushback rose in his chest. It made him angry. It felt unfair that he had been put in this position. Then he remembered what he’d been given in return. He told himself that breaking bad news to them was the whole price he had to pay for Yellowstone and three days’ worth of expensive repair work. Thing is, it wasn’t a small price to pay. Maybe it should have been, but it wasn’t. Or at least it didn’t feel small.

He opened the door and stepped down, leaving the engine running. He walked around the back—the long way—to avoid Wes. Predictably, the boys turned their eyes up to him. Just the way their father had told them not to do in the interim. Because it wasn’t fair. It just so wasn’t fair.

“You boys look like you’re sure you’re going somewhere,” he said. Hoping to ease into the thing.

“Our dad told us to be all ready,” Seth said. “Just in case. He said that way if you said yes, we wouldn’t keep you waiting. But he said he didn’t think you were gonna say yes.”

Henry shifted his eyes down to the dirt, and the lock of hair fell onto his forehead again. Seth twitched but did not ultimately move, as if he’d been about to reach for it, then changed his mind. August could see the stress it caused him. He watched Seth unable to take his eyes off his brother’s forehead, unable to take his focus off an imperfection he apparently felt was his responsibility.

August heard a slight whimper and turned to see Woody in the passenger seat, front paws up on the window, longing to get to the boys.

“Here’s the thing,” August said.

Then he stopped talking for a time. He would later go over the moment again and again in his head, examining what he knew and when. The boys both looked up into his face with those eyes. Those unfair brown eyes. They didn’t say a word. They waited.

“There are drawers in the rig,” August said at last, “and there are cupboards. The cupboards are high, but it’s okay for Henry to stand on the couch to reach them if he takes his dirty shoes off first. I’ll clear out a drawer to share and a cupboard for each of you. And then when you get your stuff in them, I want you to leave the suitcases behind. Because they’ll only get in the way. It’ll be small in there for three people and a dog. Even though the dog is small. Anyway. We’ll have to do our best to work around each other.”

Then he stopped talking, and the silence resonated and seemed to last a long time.

Seth broke it.

“Dad!” he screamed. Loud enough to hurt August’s Seth-side ear. “Dad! Guess what? He said yes!”

And August thought, Oh, holy crap. Did I? Did I say yes? And why exactly did I do that? And how could I have done a thing like that without at least talking to myself about it first?

Then he realized that none of that nonsense mattered anyway. It was too late to take it back. It was done.

“I’m writing down my cell phone number,” August said.

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