“Hey, James!” I heard behind me. I turned around to locate the source of the voice, and saw Robert climbing his way over the fence surrounding the basketball court.
“What?” I asked, annoyed. “Can you not go a day without bothering me fifty times an hour?”
“Guess not,” he replied, grinning.
“Okay, fine, I’m coming.” I rolled my ball towards the bench, and ran to the chain-link fence, just in time to see Robert jump down from the silver bar at the top of the fence. He landed on all fours, almost toppling over from the weight of his backpack. I reached out, gripping his shoulders, steadying him. “You alright?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit rusty, I guess.”
“It’s good to have you back,” I said, smiling. I remember how we used to jump over that fence every day when we were but puerile high schoolers, hurdling over it to catch the daily basketball games the college kids would have. We would cheer for our respective siblings, and boo at them when they fouled or made a bad move.
But then, the day came.
The dismissal bell rings, and I grab my backpack and run outside. I see Robert at the front door, shout his name, and begin sprinting. Robert catches up with me and whips past, laughing, as I struggle to catch up. It’s always like this, in any sport.
If we’re on the soccer field, he dribbles the ball straight past me, wondering where the ball went. If we’re at the community pool, he laps me at least ten times. And if we’re on the court… I somehow always end up as a heap on the ground, trying to breathe my lungs back into my chest, while he stands above me, sticking his hand out and laughing.
I try my best to catch up, urging my tired legs to pump the last bit of energy into my muscles, and finally, after what seems like eternity, I make it to the chain-link fence, with Robert grinning at me.
“What?” I wheeze, trying to catch my breath.
“Nothing.” More grinning.
I punch him on his arm. “Hurry up and climb. We’re missing the game.”
He starts climbing, but I can still see his smile from the ground. I ignore him and dig into the fence, eager to watch my brother destroy everyone else on the court.
We drop down, and make our way to the rickety metal bleachers on the side, and find a spot in the shade, under the overhang. We sit in silence for a bit, listening to the familiar sounds of the ball being dribbled up and down the court, of new basketball shoes squeaking on the tar.
“The final game,” he says.
“Yeah. We’ll have to wait until next fall until we can watch them play again.”
“You’ll have to wait a lot longer than that.”
I look at him, confused. “What do you mean? Don’t tell me you like the baseball games better.”
He gives me a half grin. “No, of course not. It’s just… “ He jumps down from the bleachers. “Come with me.”
I don’t know Robert to be very reticent, so I follow him down from the bleachers, bewildered.
We walk along our favorite trails through the forest and along the beach, side by side, like we used to do. Except for one thing -- both of us are completely silent. I am expecting him to say something, anything, to explain his furtiveness. But we just keep walking.
Eventually, we reach a bench. The bench. The bench we climbed all over as infants, walked on as toddlers, played on as school-children, and now sitting on as young men.
“I’m assuming you’re confused,” Robert says quietly.
“You can say that again,” I reply. Silence.
“So… are you going to explain?” More silence.
I try again. “You can’t just stop talking after you say something like that.” After a while, when I almost work up the courage to just get up and walk away, I notice his eyes blinking rapidly, and on closer inspection, I spot a glistening liquid in his eyes that looked suspiciously like tears.
I back off, giving him a bit of time to gather himself and tell me whatever he was going to tell me. I can’t help noticing, though, that his hand keeps going back to his sweatshirt pocket and fidgeting with something inside.
“I…” he begins, trailing off. His eyes stare towards a group of crows on an electric wire. My eyes involuntarily follow his.
“I—I’m mo—moving,” he finally manages, wiping away tears. “I’m moving.” Suddenly, his body slouches down, and he breaks into sobs. I move toward him to comfort him, wrapping my arms around him. I feel something wet touch my nose, and, as I wipe my nose with my sleeve, I’m surprised to find tears from my own eyes, too.
My best friend. One that I’ve known since I was a few days old.
We ended up walking along the pier, although I was too lost in my thoughts to remember how we got there.
As we approached a bench along water line, Robert spoke up. “Remember that time when you puked all over me in kindergarten here?”
“Yeah. That was funny.”
“It was disgusting!” He exclaimed, not unkindly.
“And remember the time we tried pulling out the tree sapling under the bench?”
“I can’t believe we thought it would uproot the bench.”
“And the time that we came here right before you left.”
Neither of us spoke as we fell into a melancholy silence. Nostalgic memories came rushing back to us, flooding our minds with bittersweet reminiscences.
Finally, Robert lets out a long sigh.
“It’s good to be back."