GLISTENING THAT WAY, his pecs standing out like a swimmer’s, his abs six-packed, tris notched, looking like one of those asshole models sitting in his Jockeys.
“Anything?” Ridley said. “You’ve turned this place into your private gym, your—” he barely remembered to use the right word—“your football lair.”
Ridley ran his hand through his hair. “There’s more to life,” he said, though quietly enough so the fan might have drowned him out. What he couldn’t bring himself to say was, What if? What if it isn’t something you come back from? What if you’re still not running at tryouts? Not that he needed to make the team, not the MVP. But what if he missed the high school season? The recruiters already sniffing, and suddenly nothing to sniff. Ridley wouldn’t be able to watch the devastation, even the thought of coming up here into the rehab den for another six months or more. He wanted to say What if you’re done with soccer? Football. Whatever. The doctor said it was the worst possible bone to break.
“You’ve got to do something else,” Ridley said. “We’ve got to get you out of this house.”
“I’ve got one more game in this tournament,” he said. “Then I’ve got to bike.” His mother’s sewing tape lay draped over the stationary bike, the flexible measuring band he used to make sure his right quad wasn’t shrinking compared to the left.
“I’ve already loaded the raft,” Ridley said, using the old voice, the one that used to mean no kidding. “Find a shirt. Some sandals.”
“Sandal, you mean?”
“Dad, I’m not—”
“You are. Now. We’ll grab something to eat at the bakery. My treat.”
“Oh, thanks,” Ridley heard as he turned, and more—language from the pitch, the same words he’d forced from his vocabulary when the boys were born. Andy would be stunned, Ridley thought, if he knew how little shock power they wielded.
DOWNSTAIRS, RIDLEY SLIPPED HIS SUNGLASSES over his head, then his fishing cap. He pulled sunscreen from the medicine cabinet. Then he stood and waited, long enough to wonder how he’d face an in-your-face refusal, when he heard the pock of the crutches, This is bullshit! ringing in every stomp down the stairs. But Ridley guessed there might be a hint of relief running through Andy, forced, even against his will, out of a routine with enough boredom to kill a monk.
At the bottom of the stairs they met each other’s gaze, and Andy crutched out the back without a word, stumbled into the old pickup, jammed in the crutches as a barrier between driver and passenger, and slammed the door, invisible behind the sun glare on the windshield.
“Fabulous,” Ridley said. “Let’s go fishing!”
They drove in stony silence, and Andy crutched out to the river as soon as Ridley pulled in at the empty put-in. “Popular,” was all he said, standing with his back to the truck as Ridley pulled out the raft and pump, set down the frame and oars and cooler, the rods and vests, life jackets.
“Back in about a half,” he said. Andy pitched a stone into the water, Ridley climbed in and drove downriver to the take-out, humping it on his bike’s pedals on the ride back, not wanting to leave Andy an extra second to stew in his juices, sitting on that bank, arms stretched out, palms up, face contorted in disbelief. “Ref? This is unbelievable. Do you see this?”
But when he pulled back in, the place still deserted, Ridley briefly wondered who could have dropped off that raft, where they might have gone, why they’d leave a fully-rigged boat that way. Then he glanced at Andy, standing with studied indifference but not quite able to hide a smile as Ridley hopped off the bike and stood and stared.
“How…?” Ridley said.
“Pumped it with my crutch,” Andy said.
Ridley shook his head. “And the frame?”
“But you’re not supposed to put weight—”
“I was on my knees. It was fine.”
“Nice work,” Ridley said, and nudged the raft into the water, spun it around, giving the bow to Andy. His own rod, Ridley saw, was still cased, safe in its spot along the frame, but Andy’s was rigged, leaning against the Ponderosa, something big and white already tied on.