By Charlotta Majithia
Together, they sweat in the shade: Tristan’s canines rind-deep in watermelon, Tommy’s quicksilver limbs spread-eagled in a puddle of summer dusk, bared teeth trapping the filtered tip of an American Spirit. It’s not their father’s brand.
And they’re bleeding, but they both had it coming.
Tristan cocks his head, aims, and carefully spits another seed onto their mother’s cedar Adirondack chair. Then, slowly, eyeing his pointillistic mosaic, he rearranges himself in a twin image of Tommy.
“Hm.” Tommy turns his head, blows a perfect ring. It floats the distance between them, fits around Tristan’s ear like a smoky lariat. “Not what you wanted to say.”
Beads of sweat ring Tristan’s throat. He curls his tongue against the inside of his cheek and bites off, “matters, does it?”
Tommy grins, flashes teeth.
An umbrella of red fruit hangs low overhead, and storm-damaged branches scatter the light. When Tristan shifts, a ray skips over Tommy’s leg; fine flaxen hairs and cherry dust.
Tristan shades his eyes. “You’ll visit?”
“Yeah,” Tommy says because he’s been wedging himself in between Tristan and hurt for too long, since toy cars and forfeited cereal-box prizes.
Tristan cranes his neck, watches Tommy spit at the sun. The memory of a screen-door, always swinging shut, comes unbidden. “Like hell you will.”
Tommy chuckles, soundless tremors Tristan feels where their shoulders graze in a syncopated beat. “Used to be you were so easy.”
Tristan rolls one shoulder, his delicate, slant-eyed-resentment fixed on a point just above the hemline of Tommy’s T-shirt; scar tissue covered with white cotton.
“Used to be you were a better liar,” he says, and thinks about pudgy fingers and a half-circle needle stitching the piths back onto citrus peels; baby brothers who master sutures on clementines, too young yet to recognize the shape a wedding band makes when fist rips skin.
“Not a lie if it never happened,” Tommy says quietly, stretching an arm above his head so that his Henley rides up over the waistband of his shorts, casual and so obvious, but it’s only after Tristan registers the bloom of blood under freshly reddened skin that he spots the thick, black ink branching across it.
It’s an ugly thing, the tattoo, and Tristan hates it (he’ll have covered two of his own scars with the same design by the time Stella leaves him).
They were good at this, once. Doled blows that moved bones. Fought like dogs, impatient in the heat, and so alive. Tommy’s been smiling at him like this since before either of them could boast more than one pubic hair (and there’s history there, back when they could smell the Carolina jasmines out on the water, the way her legs went for miles and miles. Tristan had liked that about her. So did Tommy).
Now, Tommy’s smirk scrapes over scars, and the phantom taste of meat on Tristan’s tongue rots.
“Leave something,” he blurts, then pauses, throat working. “When you go, I mean.”
Tommy blinks. Tristan squirms, hesitates. Then: “that way you’ll have something to come back for.”
Tommy looks over at Tristan. His blood. Wearing his summer-camp tee. Tommy King in faded print across the back, a pair of perky breasts improvised around the curlicue-dot—still crude and clear in china marker red.
His shadow, even in the sun.
“Idiot,” Tommy mutters, and gives a blind swing. His fist misses, settles on Tristan’s chest, and stays.
Carefully, he tries, “we grew up in the same bed,” but it’s variations on a theme, and Tristan counters it too quick, snorts and says, “sure grew up different.”
Tommy hesitates (and he’ll remember this, the bastardized pledge to his own awkward masculinity, how ‘same sun, same grass, same bones’ had sounded too much like poetry). He says, “that doesn’t matter.” He doesn’t say anything else.
Tristan swallows, and his eyes tiptoe to the sky. “Leave a sock.”
A crooked smile props itself against one corner of Tommy’s mouth. “A sock.” No rise in pitch, not a question. “Singular.”
There’s allowance there; Tristan hears it like the snick of a lock, and his rawboned fingers make a swan dive into a glass of cool ice-tea. He wades past sprigs of mint, presents Tommy with a cupped palm full of sweating ice cubes, and says, “you’re right. Leave both.”
A muscle in Tommy’s jaw jumps, the way August lightning splits a tree, like it might snap the bone clean in two.
Quiet lodges in the backwoods on either side of them, splinters with the meek, staccato yip of a coyote, and Tristan startles, looks over his shoulder.
When Tommy snickers, Tristan turns, tracks the sound of crushed ice to Tommy’s jaw. Wet, pink lips part to show a pinker tongue, curled protectively around a small cube. Tommy’s cheeks hollow, and Tristan yelps when the cube flies a perfect arc, landing cold on his knee.
Together, they watch it melt, a dark puddle on denim.
“I’ll come back,” Tommy says, eyes like a crime scene, ringed in red, and Tristan nods, nods like he doesn’t agree. “‘Course,” he says, and to his credit his tone doesn’t change. “To get the socks.”
Tommy laughs. It’s a soft laugh; saddest sound Tristan’s ever heard.