George married Ben’s twin sister, Vanessa, and Ben married nobody. Twelve years later, Ben knew he should have relocated and started his own life. But he worried about leaving Vanessa, and so lived next door.
George goaded Ben into dating women he had already romanced. Somehow George managed this subterfuge and convinced Ben that calling the game would ruin everything.
In October, when Vanessa visited their mother, she asked Ben to make sure young Scott got to soccer. “The team depends on him and George gets so caught up in stuff, he forgets.”
He sure did. Saturday afternoon, Scott showed up at Ben’s backdoor in cleats, needing a ride to practice. His dad had gone to pick up something from “a colleague” hours ago.
“My game starts in ten minutes.”
Ben drove his nephew to a muddy field. Scott said he had a ride home.
When Ben returned, George was pacing the sidewalk. “I almost called the police—kidnapping.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling?”
“What the hell are you talking about? You’re going to wreck a happy family because I had to run an errand?”
“Don’t drag your kid into it.”
George shrugged and grinned. “Play some one-on-one?”
Ben said, “Too wet.”
“We’ll watch our feet.”
Ben kicked at the leaves under a backyard hoop, while presumably George hunted up a basketball.
He appeared on the back porch, twirling the ball on his finger.
Ben slapped the ball hard to keep up a dribble. George closed in and Ben missed; it rolled around the rim and out. George jumped for it and slid. Ben grabbed the loose ball and scored.
“Like that, huh?” George drove in. When Ben covered him, George slammed an elbow in his stomach. George missed his shot and hurled the ball so hard Ben’s hands stung.
Ben missed two shots and George dunked two. Zigzagging, Ben slipped sideways. On the ground, he wiped mud from his face with his shirt. George’s shot ricocheted off the backboard. Ben drove in close toward the center. George shoved Ben’s back and they both slammed into the pole.
Ben raced toward a lay-up when George’s head smacked his shoulder, knocking him flat. With a whoosh, a barrier opened. A cavern inside Ben’s chest filled with oxygen.
Ben’s fist flew at George’s face—the squish of contact and George groaning on the ground. Without thinking, Ben straddled George and kept punching him. George was screaming, “What did you tell Scott? When you drove him to soccer. What?”
They rolled in the mud, fists flying until Scott and Andrew Shimizu stood over them. Mrs. Shimizu was backing toward her car. Scott called after her, “They’re best friends. They do this all the time.”
Wincing, dripping blood, George took the mother’s wrist. “Let me explain.”
While Ben? Ben ruthlessly, gloriously entered his own house and slammed the door.