The GMC pulled straight into the driveway and parked, instead of going into the garage, as it normally did. Cade and Melissa weren't staying long. They climbed out and walked (or limped, in Cade's case) to the front of the house. As soon as Cade rattled his keys in the lock, an excited bark exploded through the door.
"Hold on, pal, we're coming," Cade said as he swung open the door. Loki burst through as soon as the opening was wide enough and went a little bit crazy, just because they were back. He jumped into Cade, showing no regard whatsoever for his cracked ribs. In truth, the ribs didn't hurt all that much, but that was probably the meds talking. They watched him run in wide, erratic arcs for a moment and then we able to calm him down. Cade dropped to one knee and stroked the panting dog's fur. He traced a finger along matching gashes that ran almost the entire length of his body. He didn't seem to mind.
"I guess we all got beat up. Hey, if I forget, remind me to cover the window with cardboard or something before we leave. Who knows what kind of wildl-"
He was interrupted by a banging sound in the back of the house. Melissa gasped, and the banging repeated. He heard the tinkle of broken glass. "Goddamn, what now?" He grabbed a shovel that was leaning against the wall, and then he looked at his dog, content that his mistress was scratching him absent-mindedly behind his ear. And then he looked at Melissa, who was looking at her dog with the same expression Cade figured he had on his face.
Why wasn't the dog upset?
Cade took a few tentative steps towards the back of the house, looked into his backyard and smiled. He motioned for his wife to join him.
* * *
Cade walked toward the tall black man in a Michigan sweatshirt. He was wearing headphones, and Cade thought it might not be a good idea to surprise him. "Alvin! AL!" Alvin jumped and spun, mallet in his hand.
"Hey...there he is!" He took off his work gloves and walked towards the couple. "I didn't think you'd be back so soon. Kinda ruined my surprise." He kissed Melissa on the cheek. She hugged him. So did Cade. It felt like the right thing to do.
"Why are you fixing my window?"
"It was broken. Did you paint my garage two years ago when my leg was broken?"
"There you go."
"Neighbors, huh, Al?"
"Neighbors, kid. Now let me finish; I'm sure you want to relax a bit." He pulled his gloves back on.
Melissa said, "I wish. We have to hit the road. Just came to pack a few things. Coffee?"
Al took his gloves off again and let them fall to the ground.
* * *
The instructions consisted of Melissa getting out one half of one sentence before Alvin made it quite clear that, seeing as he had raised four boys, he was quite capabale of handling two cats. And he was sure he could figure out how to get the mail on a daily basis, as well.
"Men." Her voice was mock-exasperated.
"You've been talking to Dorothy. Speaking of..." He reachedinto a a cupboard and pulled out a plate covered in tin foil. Cade's eyebrows rose.
"Chocolate chip?" Alvin smiled. "I do love that woman. Where is she?"
"Daughter's in town. She sends her best."
"I can see that." Cade looked at his watch. "We have to get going." He grabbed both suitcases, which his left side did not agree with at all. He put that one down. "Ow." Alvin picked it up easily, still strong despite his near-seventy years.
They threw the suitcases in the back. Melissa gave Alvin a kiss and opened the rear door for Loki, who happily jumped in. She closed it after him and climbed into the driver's seat. Cade took a moment to say something that needed to be said.
"Hey, don't give me any of that sappy shit, kid. Melissa told me why you went outside in the first place. You didn't have to, hell, you shouldn't have, but you did, just to protect us. Not that I'm surprised; that's the kind of man you are."
Alvin nodded, opened the passenger side door, and motioned for Cade to climb in. Cade did, shutting the door with a thud. Alvin handed him the plate of cookies and leaned towards the open window.
"I'm sorry about your brother. I wish I had time to figure out a better way, 'cept I'm old and slow. But you have to understand this one thing, kid: even if I knew that he was your brother, it still would have come down to a choice of either him or you two, and I wouldn't have hesitated one bit longer than I did. That's the kind of guy I am."
He straightened up, rapped three times on the roof, and went back to work.
Neighbors, Cade thought. That sounds about right.
To be continued...