It's the popping exhales of the school bus brakes that warn her. She runs to her bedroom for a pair of jeans, and to rub the dried streams of yesterday's mascara from her cheeks. By the time he tops the stairs and enters the apartment, she is clearing the remains of her day from the living room floor: three coffee cups, a cereal bowl, a small pile of chewed-off fingernails. The television is still on, the news network's ticker full of words she'd been praying not to see. She moves in front of the screen, turns to greet him.
"Hey, dude," she smiles, the very corners of her lips dipping down. Her fingers tighten around the mug handles, the rough edges of her nails digging deep into the flesh of her palms.
He drops his backpack, does that hair flip thing, tossing long blond bang from his eyes. She calls it Biebering when she is in a teasing mood. He nods toward the television, where sharp consonants of words like strike zone and tank explode from the speakers. "What's going on?" he asks.
She breathes in twice, three times before exhaling. Turns the tv off with her bare foot. "It's not here," she says, which was true just hours ago. The mugs and bowl tumble into the sink. Faucet on, eyes closed, quick math: the first two World Wars, four, six, eight years long. He's now 16, strong enough to punt the soccer ball three-quarter field lengths, but still small.
"Can you drop me off at practice?" he asks. She reaches out, touches a band of hair crossing his sweaty forehead, says nothing of a haircut. Most of his freckles sprinkled in during the summer he was five. She used to kiss the rounded bottoms of his baby feet while she nursed him.
He squinches one eye. "You're being weird," he says. He's trying to sound flippant but his eyes - his dad's eyes - sell him out.
Soccer practice will be cancelled, but she nods. "Get your shin guards," she replies. And he goes.
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