Hud divided a look between the two of them like maybe they didn’t speak the same language as he. But he sat. “Mom, what’s going on?”
She patted his knee. “Do you remember that time you traded my cat for one of the neighbor’s dog’s new puppies?” she asked.
Jacob remembered. He and Hud had been maybe eight and had a mutual hate affair with the love of her life, Bones the cat—who’d hissed at them and shit in their shoes at every turn, out of spite. The people in the apartment across from them had a dog who’d shown up pregnant after being missing for two days. Two months later, she’d had pups in their bathtub.
Hud and Jacob had gotten the bright idea to trade Bones for a new puppy, and aided by the neighbor’s son, the switch had been stealthily made one night.
The next morning, the neighbor had blown a gasket and so had Carrie. “You made us work for the guy cleaning up after those puppies for two weeks,” Jacob reminded her. “Ten puppies, each with a loose digestive track. And this one…” He jabbed a thumb in Hud’s direction, “kept pretending to gag like he was going to throw up and managed to get himself excused.”
“Aw,” Carrie said. “He wasn’t pretending. You know he’s got a weak stomach.” She ruffled Hud’s hair. “Don’t you, baby?”
Hud grumbled something beneath his breath, and when Jacob laughed, he narrowed his eyes.
And then stood up and stared at them some more.
“What?” Carrie asked him. “What is it?”
“I’m missing something,” Hud said.
“Oh no,” she said. “I’m so sorry. Where did you last see it? Because your room’s a complete and utter wreck, Hudson. If you’d just clean it like I asked—”
“It’s not a thing,” Hud said. “It’s something else.” He stared at Jacob.
“What is it?” Carrie asked, but Jacob knew. He held Hud’s gaze and knew.
“You two don’t seem like people who haven’t spoken to or seen each other in nine years,” Hud said.
Carrie laughed. “Well, of course not, silly. I speak to him as often as I speak to you. And speaking of that, you have a big birthday coming up. You’re finally going to hit double digits, the big one-oh. What should we do to celebrate?”
So this answered Jacob’s immediate question. They were ten years old today. Or would be next week.
And she wasn’t in the present at all…
“We don’t need anything special, Mom,” Hud said, and stood up. “You, I want to see you outside.”
“Can’t, baby,” she said. “My ankle—”
“Jacob,” Hud said.
Jacob casually reached for another piece of pizza and leaned back against the headboard. Because he knew what was outside. A fight. One he didn’t want to have.
Carrie took Hud’s hand. “Honey, whatever it is, just say it.”
Hud pinched the bridge of his nose and then dropped his hand and looked at his mom. “You heard from him. All this time, when he was”—Hud looked at Jacob—“gone, you heard from him.”
Carrie, confused on the timeline or not, knew she’d stepped in it. She bit her lower lip, her expression dialed to an unbearable sadness that Jacob couldn’t take. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. “I called every week,” he told Hud.
“He used FaceTime,” his mom said. “And sometimes he came in person.”
Hud’s eyes widened as he stared at Jacob. “You came here. You came here to Cedar Ridge?”
“How many times?”
Hud pointed at him. “How many times, Jacob?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Nine,” Carrie said, and winced when both boys turned to her. “I kept count. Was I not supposed to keep count?”
Hud swore and paced the length of the room, glowering fiercely. Then suddenly his temper drained and he shoved his fingers in his hair. “Jesus, Jacob,” he whispered. “You kept up with her?”
“Did you really think I wouldn’t?”
Hud’s eyes hardened again. “You kept up with her and not me.”
Yeah, okay, that one was more difficult. He took a deep breath to speak, but Hud closed his eyes and turned away. “Forget it,” he said.
Forget it. He’d said the same thing all those years ago to Jacob, turning away from him then too. If you want to be like Dad, go. But know that if you do, we’re no longer brothers.