nearly eleven years old. The wildly impetuous kid that had once trotted along hand in hand with his father had grown into an increasingly sulky young man. Henry tried not to think about it. He had learned as a child how not to think about things: it was how he got through life.
The evening sun painted long tree shapes across the road as he turned onto Twenty-Third Street. The houses here were small and weathered, with dormers crowding their sagging roofs and tree roots pushing humps up beneath the sidewalk, reminding Henry of his childhood home of Clyde, Ohio. Of course, Clyde had been neater, with its immaculate old Town Hall and busy Main Street. By comparison, Buena Vista's half-empty downtown was a grungy ghost town. There wasn't even a decent bar, like the old Eagles Lodge back home on Main Street, or its lesser counterpart, the Clyde Piper. Henry didn't mind that. Lately, he preferred to do his drinking alone. He approached the house, his work shoes clumping on the wooden front steps.
"Jake," Stephanie's voice hollered from inside. "Your father's here. Don't forget to put Sig on his leash."
She met him at the screen door just as he reached for the handle.
"He'll be around in a minute," she said through the screen. "He's out back with some friends." Henry saw the boxes behind her, stacked in the front room with handwritten notations on them: KITCHEN, J's BEDROOM, DEN.
"You need a hand with any of those, Steph?" Henry asked quietly, nodding toward the boxes.
"No. Greg's done a great job helping us get everything together. He's here now, finishing the upstairs bedrooms."
No wonder Steph wasn't inviting him in. "You sure? I can carry some boxes to the truck."
them," Steph sighed impatiently. "The movers are coming on Monday. All we have to do is have it all packed, and we're almost done. Thanks."
Henry hated talking to her through the screen door. "Are you sure? I could at least bring down the head boards and dressers --"
"Henry, stop," Stephanie interrupted curtly. "I know this is how you show you care, by doing little jobs, but really, Greg and I have it handled. Just take your walk with Jake and Sig and try to get back before the mosquitoes get too bad."
Greg and I
. Henry hated the way she said it. There had been other men in her life since him, of course, but Greg was the one that made it all real. In less than a week they'd be gone, moved out of Buena Vista, and taking Jake with them. They were going to California, where Greg had gotten some big computer job. Henry tried to be glad for them. He
glad that Steph would finally have the security she'd always wanted, even if it wasn't him who'd be providing it. What he was really unhappy about was that, this time, he couldn't follow them. He had moved to Buena Vista to be near his son, and now they were leaving him here, like an unwanted dog.
There were footsteps on the sidewalk behind Henry. He turned and saw Jake standing there, not looking at him. Sig's leash dangled from his hand. The dog grinned up at him and panted in the evening sun.
"Hey, Jake," Henry said, clomping down the steps to join him.
Jake mumbled something, but still didn't make eye contact. Henry took the leash from him. Sig, their old German Shepherd, immediately trotted ahead, leading them back out toward Beech Avenue. Henry and Jake followed.
Henry no longer reached down for his son's hand. They simply walked together in silence.
Cars and pickup trucks passed them on Beech. A sudden breeze shushed in the bushes and carried trash along the gutter.
Henry finally asked, "So, you know anything about your new school?"
Jake sighed harshly and pushed his hair out of his face. "Same crap, different city."
A flare of dull anger lit Henry's thoughts but he pushed it back. Soon enough Jake wouldn't be using the word crap. Adulthood loomed over his son like a bomb. Henry pushed on. "You'll make new friends if you remember what I taught you. I bet they'll even have one of