Home > Take Me with You(6)

Take Me with You(6)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

“Inside.”

Seth missed the tennis ball in the process of answering. August expected him to run after it, but he didn’t. He just dropped the old racket, turned, and flopped into a sit with his back up against the shop. Woody wiggled up to him, put his paws up on Seth’s shoulder. Sniffed at the boy’s face as though he’d lost something there. Seth wrapped his arms around the dog and drew him in, hugging Woody close to his chest.

August sat down next to them. Leaned back. It was a spot in the full midday sun, and August knew he wouldn’t be able to stay there long. Seth lived out here in the hot valley. He must have been used to it.

They sat in silence for a time. How long a time August found himself unable to judge.

“You never came by for dog tricks,” he said at last.

Seth said, “Maybe some other time.”

Then more silence. August didn’t want to ask straight out what was wrong, because he didn’t feel it was his place to do so. And because he had rarely, if ever, met a young boy who wanted to talk about his heartaches and disappointments with a near stranger.

Seth startled him by speaking.

“Where’re you going on your trip?”

“All kinds of places. National parks mostly. Zion and Bryce Canyon on the way up. Salt Lake City. The big destination was Yellowstone, but I won’t make it, what with the unexpected cost of breaking down and all. Then on the way back I want to swing east and see Arches and Canyonlands. Maybe Escalante and Capitol Reef. Maybe Canyon de Chelly. Depends on my timing. I like to leave things loose. It’s the only time of year I get to.”

“That’s a great trip.”

“I hope so. Didn’t get off to much of a start. I’m hoping it’ll pick up from here.”

“You got kids?”

August sighed. As quietly as possible. “I used to have a boy.”

For the first time, Seth’s head turned, and he looked right at the side of August’s face. “How do you used to have a boy? Isn’t your boy your boy forever? Or do you just mean he grew up into a whole man?”

“He was killed in an accident,” August said. He waited for the pain to begin its path of travel. Nothing happened.

“Oh,” Seth said. “I’m sorry. Was he my age?”

“No. He was older. He was nineteen.”

“I’m sorry that had to go and happen.”

“Me too.”

A long silence fell. Seth was the one to break it.

“Do you miss having kids along when you go traveling?”

That was when the pain came back. Radiated down, almost more a burn than a slice—an irritating, humming burn. So there you are again, August told it silently. I wondered.

It partially distracted him from the nagging sense that something was wrong in Seth’s question. August had said he’d had one kid. One boy. Not kids plural. More than that, though, was a sense of too much importance riding on what Seth seemed to be trying to camouflage as small talk.

“I miss him no matter what I’m doing,” August said. “It never stops.”

Then neither said anything for a time, and August had just about reached his limit for sitting in the hot sun. He levered to his feet and walked to the open entrance of the shop, looking back over his shoulder once before ducking into the shade. Woody chose to stay with Seth for the time being.

He found Wes working under his hood with much the same energy Seth had used to smack the tennis ball.

“Whatever’s wrong,” August said, “please don’t take it out on my engine.”

The mechanic’s head appeared, and he straightened up to his full height and looked August in the eye, but only briefly. “What’s that mean?” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and shook one out.

“Just that everything seemed so sunny and bright this morning, figuratively speaking, and now it’s like a big dark storm cloud set its head down on this place while we were all eating lunch.”

Wes didn’t answer for a long time. Instead, he pulled out a bright- blue disposable lighter and torched the end of his cigarette, drawing hard. A cloud of smoke hung around his head. It was hot, and the air didn’t move. Not even a little bit.

“Can’t always tell kids what they want to hear,” Wes said at last. “Sometimes you got to break bad news.”

“That’s true, I suppose.” August took his usual seat on the low stack of tires. “Talk to me about this idea.”

The hand that held Wes’s cigarette came up to his face. But, rather than finding his mouth, it landed over his eyes and stayed there for a long time.

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