When we return home, Ralph’s sitting on our back porch smoking a pipe. He’s wearing brown corduroys and a long-sleeved flannel shirt, and when he sees us riding into the backyard he gets up at the slow rate his arthritis allows. We’ve never called Ralph Grandpa but always think it, and now he’s standing there with his arms crossed, that stupid pipe clenched between his lips.
“And where have you two been?” he asks. His old voice is raspy, and it’s a surprise he hasn’t yet fallen victim to lung cancer. “I’ve been waiting almost an hour.”
This makes me pause, and I can’t help glancing at Laddie’s grave near the back of the yard. Has Ralph noticed it?
“An hour?” I hear myself say. “What time is it?”
I glance at Ty, but my brother’s not paying attention; instead he’s staring straight back at Ralph. And why not? Right now the only thing on his mind is revenge, and the old man standing in front of us is only going to complicate the situation.
“We were out riding,” Ty says, his voice normal and flat. “What’s up?”
Ralph smiles. “Oh, nothing. Just wanted to come by and see if you’d like some lunch. Your parents told me to watch after you boys, and while I know you both can handle yourselves, I still felt I should play the role of babysitter.”
Ty shakes his head. “We ate already.”
Ralph shrugs. “That’s fine, that’s fine. No worries here.” He pauses, glances around the yard (how hasn’t he noticed the grave?) and says, “Say, where’s Laddie? I haven’t seen him around all day. Isn’t he with you?”
And those two questions, I realize, are what is going to set my brother off the edge. Just the mention of his best canine friend will release more tears, and Ty will start sobbing, and then Ralph with know something’s wrong. He’ll ask, he’ll try to find out just what it is, and then everything will come out.
For a moment, I really do wish for my brother to cry.
But Ty doesn’t. He frowns, looks like he’s trying to think, and then shakes his head. “You know, I haven’t seen him all day either. I don’t know, maybe he’s out in the woods or something.”
I can do nothing but stand there shocked, amazed that my little brother is able to lie so easily. Maybe under different circumstances I’d feel proud to call him my kin, but not now. For some reason the idea that Ty can act this way makes me sick to my stomach.
Ralph seems content with this answer, though it really makes no sense, because he has to know that Laddie is always around, he never goes off on his own. But the old man just nods and tells us to have a good day, to stay out of trouble. Then, with a parting grin, he starts off next door.
We watch him until he’s gone, and I turn and look at Tyler. He looks at me. He sighs, and there’s something in that sigh that seems to add another ten years to his body.
“Okay,” he says. “Let’s hurry.”