Underthrow, 15

Thursday night: Travis’s finger still stung, and his stomach churned even before he ate a foot-long B.L.T. on his lunch break, so he chose not to throw the football with Tony in their driveway. Tony had turned on only one of the house lights, a dim standing lamp in the living room which glared against the setting sun creeping through the windows. Travis tossed his polo and khakis into a small hamper hanging on his bedroom doorknob and walked into the living room in a white undershirt and boxers.

Travis’s mom had left a sticky note on the kitchen counter that read CHICKEN IN THE FRIDGE. XOXO. She had managed to balance the store-brand chicken wing box atop the milk and orange juice; there was no other space in the old refrigerator.

“At least let me come Saturday,” Tony said. He slumped against the foot of the couch, his torso hiding the torn part of the cushion where the foam stuffing had begun its escape.

(Tony, though four years younger, stood half an inch shorter than Travis. He had wide shoulders and a thick neck, and could run the length of Elmswood Park without getting winded. All Tony had talked about since June was playing fullback like his hero Joe Riggins, the legendary Redskin that wouldn’t go down with a dozen defenders on his back. Travis knew his brother would shine on the high school team as easily as he had on Pop Warner teams. Sports might be Tony’s future; Travis just had the one day.)

“No,” Travis said, pulling his shoulders back. He had learned years ago that if he stood upright and projected his voice, he sounded enough like their father to keep Tony in line. “Play with your own friends. Put that chicken in the microwave.”

“Want to play some Halo?” Tony asked as he rose to obey the command. The brothers never had more sophisticated conversations than this. They played catch in silence. From their parents, they gained work ethics and an ideal of home as a quiet respite from the exhaustion of employment.

“Sure,” Travis said. He grabbed a video game controller, sat on the couch, and tried to think of Elmswood Park to replace the image of Sarah’s orange hair, framed by a green hat. The best he could do was to instead remember the back of her hair in social studies class, pretty even when pocked by spitballs. Even after closing his eyes to sleep, waves of orange colored his vision like cheap sunglasses.

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