Home > Take Me with You(11)

Take Me with You(11)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

He and Wes were standing in the tiny office. The place where you meet with the garage owner at the end of the repair, usually so you can settle up your bill. Usually not so you can exchange information for the purpose of returning his children at the end of the summer.

August glanced over his shoulder through the wide-open office door. Seth was belted into the passenger seat of the rig, and Henry was standing up between the seats, one hand stretched out to each. They both stared at the adults through the windshield. Their elation seemed to have worn off quickly, revealing the miscellaneous uncertainties beneath.

“Thanks,” Wes said. “And I looked up the number of the county jail and wrote it down. I gave it to Seth. And I gave him some money so they can call from a pay phone. I can get calls up to three times a week. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Just inside certain hours. I wrote down the hours.”

“You can receive calls? I didn’t think inmates could receive calls.”

Wes seemed to wince at the word “inmates.” “Rule is, only in an emergency or by special permission. I got permission on account of I’m the sole provider for these two kids, and I knew they’d be in no position to come visit. Either way.”

“Oh,” August said. “Okay. Seth can call from my cell phone. I’ve got minutes coming out of my ears.”

“Good. Thanks.”

August watched the mechanic carefully. Watched his eyes, his mood, his reactions. Because he wanted to see how a man felt as he sent his kids off to spend the summer with a relative stranger. But Wes either felt very little emotion or, more likely, didn’t like to give his feelings away.

“It’s no problem. It costs me nothing. We’ll call three times a week.”

“Yeah. That would be good. That would help a lot. Help them and me both. Hey, hope you don’t mind, I wrote down your license number, and I thought you could put your full name and address on this paper. It’s just that . . . if the authorities ask me where I put my kids . . . you know . . . sounds kind of bad if I don’t specifically know. I mean, what do I say? ‘Well, they drove off with some guy, but he seemed okay and he said he’d bring ’em back later.’ I mean, I can’t just tell people I gave my kids to this guy I don’t even know.”

The mechanic’s own words twisted his face into a wry smile, and he ended on a snort that was almost laughter. Sardonic laughter. Then his face changed suddenly. His eyes went wide, and he lowered himself into his desk chair. He brought one of his hands to his chest as though he was having trouble breathing.

“Hey,” August said. “Wes. You all right?”

At first Wes just looked up at him, eyes still showing whites all around. Looking but clearly not seeing. Then he said, “Is that what I’m doing? My God. That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? I’m giving my kids to this guy I don’t even know.”

August leaned over the desk and grabbed Wes hard by both shoulders. “Look at me,” he said. It didn’t take at first, so he tried again. “Wes. Look at me.” This time Wes’s panicked eyes met his own. “I’m going to take good care of those boys. And we’re going to call you three times a week. They’re going to see some amazing things. Places they never knew existed. And I’ll bring them back in September. And if you ever want to know how they are, I’m on the other end of my cell phone.”

“I’d have to call collect.”

“Go ahead if you need to. If it feels important.”

“Let me give you some money for their food.”

Wes pulled out his wallet and removed every bill it contained. August accepted the money without looking or counting and without comment.

“Thanks. Seriously. Thanks, August. I mean it. I knew you were okay. I knew I didn’t make a mistake with you. I don’t know why I lost track of that for a minute. I just . . .”

“Love those boys?”

Wes began to cry. Not openly, like sobbing. It was silent, and he obviously tried to resist it. But August clearly saw the tears well up and spill over.

“They’re my whole life,” he said, swiping hard at his eyes with the back of one hand. “My whole world. You know?”

“I know,” August said.

“Mind if I go in the rig alone and say good-bye?”

“Go ahead.”

In fact, August didn’t even watch them through the windshield. He considered the moment entirely theirs and let them have it.

“Was my dad okay?” Seth asked as they pulled out onto the road that would take them back to the highway.

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