Hank settles into a lawn chair as the graduation party unfolds around him. He adjusts himself against the vinyl as he watches his youngest grandson swapping jokes with some of his buddies over by the big cottonwood tree. He’s a good kid. Got a bit of a wild streak in him, but honestly it would be a little disappointing if he didn’t.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, Hank roots around for his plastic lighter. As his fingers close around the soft pack of cigarettes, he thinks back on 20 years of subterfuge. Joyce, God rest her, always on him any time the grandkids came to visit. Scrub out all the ashtrays. Open the windows and turn on a table fan to air out the three-season porch. Get those smoky polo shirts in the laundry basket and put on a fresh one before they get here. Keep up the routine once they arrived. Take the dog out for long walks by himself. Run unexplained errands after meals. Blame the smell in the mini-van on some wayward poker buddies. Always keep a roll of breath mints in a front pocket.
An irritating routine, but all for a good cause. Filthy habit and all that, and certainly not one he’d want to pass on to a couple of impressionable young boys. But they’re not boys anymore. They’re men. And now that high school is over, they can make their own decisions.
Hank pulls a Newport out of the pack and lights up with all the casualness of a six-decade smoker. He’s aware of the multiple shocked gazes that have settled on him. He takes a slow drag and exhales a smooth white cloud as he watches a red squirrel winding its way up the trunk of the cottonwood. They’ll get over it.