”Get up,” Kevin says with the same voice he uses during practice, cold and authoritative, as he points his racquet at the goal. With the harsh light against his back, the shadows blur the line between his arm and the stick, and Andrew can’t help but laugh. Though his body is numb, the wooden bench still cuts into his back with each rise and fall of his chest.
Kevin doesn’t smile, “I have to practice,” he persists, as if Andrew doesn’t already know that. Perhaps Kevin has forgotten it is Andrew who has spent every day of the past year listening to him complain about his cast, about not being able to practice and about how there won’t be nearly enough time for him to become good enough to play with them after the summer.
“Then practice,” Andrew shrugs, and when Kevin turns around to head onto the court alone the bleachers creak beneath his feet, and the fabric of his jersey drapes over his back like flames. The orange is so vivid and the folds create such intricate patterns that even when he’s on the other side of the court, he still shines like the sun.
Like clockwork, the muffled sound of balls hitting the net fills the stadium.
The perfect rhythm continues for hours as Kevin repeats the same movement of picking a ball from the bucket next to him and and aiming it at the goal. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The red light barely switching off between the hits.
It’s like watching a shadow the blessed child of Exy, a reflection that moves exactly like the original but with each movement mirrored.
He can’t play with his left hand, though, right? The memory of Nicky’s words echo through the fog, swirling before Andrew’s eyes. He raises his hand in a lazy motion to whisk them away, to ensure his view remains unobstructed.
”What’s the point?” Andrew asks as Kevin approaches the bleachers, carrying his helmet under his arm and long fingers still curling around the stick. His hair is disheveled, and when the light hits his forehead, it glistens.
”Exy’s the point,” Not even sparing Andrew a glance, Kevin walks past him towards the locker room. “If you weren’t so drugged up, you’d see that too.”
“Watch the goal,” Kevin says, but his body is already turning away from Andrew and towards the court.
Andrew sits up. “Alright,” he says, and the way Kevin stops in his step and turns to look at him sparks something deep in his stomach. It isn’t quite excitement, but it’s something, which is more than he has felt in months, and he can feel himself grinning under Kevin’s eyes. Keep looking, he wants to say, you won’t find anything here.
Watching Kevin from the goal, details start to protrude that were invisible from the bleachers. From the way his fringe peeks out beneath the visor of his helmet, to how his lips are pursed in determination. Even his breathing, shallow breaths that make his entire chest rise, feels like a display of something personal.
A ball flies past Andrew, faster than he’s able to move his racquet. The red light lights up, but it doesn’t matter, there will be another shot.
But he doesn’t catch the next one either. Or the one after that. He just stands in the middle of the goal like an amateur, unable to muster up the energy to even try.
When Kevin tears his helmet off and walks towards the goal, his entire face is twisted. ”You’re wasting my time,” he says, baring his teeth as his voice gets progressively louder and stopping only when he’s close enough for tiny drips of his spit to prickle Andrew’s skin, ”and worse than that, you’re wasting your talent.”
Time stops as Kevin’s breaths break against his face, and Andrew’s throat is dry when he speaks. ”You’ll never be as good as you were,” he says, ”your brother ruined you.”
For a moment Kevin looks like he’s going to withdraw, his right hand twitching towards his chest, but then he reaches out with it and grabs Andrew’s chin. He digs his fingers deep into the skin, a grip so firm Andrew tastes blood.
“Careful,” Andrew mocks him as best he can with his mouth practically held shut, “Unless you want to lose it again.” But Kevin doesn’t flinch, not even when Andrew flicks his head in an attempt to catch one of his fingers in his mouth and bite him.
Warmth blossoms from where their skin is touching, and Kevin’s eyes are radiant in comparison to their dull surroundings. His voice is crystal clear, nothing like the muffled noises Andrew is used to.
“Do this for me,” Kevin says, as firm as his grip, “get off your drugs.”
The Racquet hits the ground with a soft clunk, bouncing against the grass when Andrew grabs a hold of Kevin’s left wrist. Through the skin, he can feel Kevin’s bones as his thumb pushes against the veins.
As if he has been burned, Kevin lets go of Andrew’s face, and instead tries to pry Andrew’s fingers away. With each second that passes, his movements grow more desperate, profanities spilling from his lips and his nails digging into the back of Andrew’s hand.
What would happen if he pushed just a little harder?
Would the bones crack beneath his fingers?
Would Kevin’s tears trace the tail of his tattoo?
Andrew lets go, and Kevin takes a step back as he clutches his hand, pressing it against his face as if he needs to feel it to believe it’s still there. “Fuck you,” he breathes into his palm, and shoves Andrew with his shoulder on his way to the locker room.
When Nicky and Aaron go to order their drinks, Andrew pushes the bottle of pills into Kevin’s hand. ”Just for tonight,” he says, still not used to how loud his own voice is when the world isn’t filtered through his medicine, “and if you lose them, Riko will be the least of your problems.”
Kevin’s mouth opens, as if he’s about to protest, but then it closes again, and the bottle disappears beneath the table.
During the night, Andrew loses track of how much he drinks. The familiar burn is ever present, as if he’s constantly throwing back shots, and the faces around him grow less familiar with each drink.
Kevin drinks too, with one of his hands resting against the visible outline of the bottle in his pocket. “Check this out,” Nicky says as he does a ridiculous move, balancing one shot glass on each of his fingertips. Andrew isn’t amused, but Kevin smiles at it, making his tattoo curve around his cheekbone like the body of a snake. It’s like witnessing magic, the way the black ink slithers along his cheek and frames his features.
On the dancefloor, Andrew dances alongside Kevin as a million other bodies move around them, visible only briefly through the flashing lights. Kevin’s lips are parted slightly, his fringe pulled back from his forehead, and his breathing seems to match the beat of the song. Maybe his body wasn’t just made for Exy, maybe it was also made for this.
The bathroom floor is cold and wet against Andrew’s back, even through the fabric of his shirt. In the distance, sirens are wailing, and the entire room spins. His body spins with it, and the sounds swirl around him like water going down the drain.
Maybe they’re finally coming to take him away.
He turns on his side and throws up, the contents of his stomach burning the inside of his throat as his eyes well up. The stench is acidic, and the floor is damp against his naked arm.
Through the veil of tears, a hand reaches towards him.
The first think Andrew sees when he opens his eyes is Kevin, sitting on the floor next to the bed. ”You look like shit,” Kevin says, as if he himself doesn’t look like he just crawled out of his own grave.
”A very astute observation,” Andrew croaks in response, his mouth completely dry. The light is so strong, it forces him to shut his eyes as he continues, ”nothing gets past the great Kevin Day.”
Through the darkness, he hears a short laugh, followed by the familiar rustle of pills against plastic. When he opens his eyes again Kevin is closer, holding out his left hand towards him with the bottle resting in his palm.
“You could play without them,” Kevin says, with his hair standing on end from sleeping on it. If Andrew could burn this image of him onto the back of his lids, he would, just so he could come back to it when the veil is at its thickest.
The bottle is warm when he takes it, and he pops the lid off with his thumb.
“I could,” he says with one of the pills on his tongue, “but you really shouldn’t ask for things you don’t know if you want.”
Kevin sinks back onto the floor and leans his head against the wall. For a moment, they just watch each other, until Kevin speaks.
“I want this,” he says.