Using the flattest stones Kyle could find, ones that fit snugly in their palms, they dug at the base of the maple tree, where the robin had fallen. The ground was hard with pebbles and roots, but Kyle did not relent until they ploughed a hole wide and deep enough for the bird. Kyle looked at Byron, whose face was bored, yet red with exertion. Byron stood, unfurling his lanky frame, and tossed his rock away. He gestured to the BB gun, which was leaning against the tree’s trunk.
“I didn’t really think you were going to hit it,” he said.
Kyle did not move. From his crouched position he rummaged through the grass, searching for a stick that was long enough to prod the bird into the hole. Byron. It was Byron’s fault. It was Byron who had dared him to point it at the robin for ten dollars. It was Byron who told him that the Winchester wasn’t primed. Yet even as Kyle ran his fingers through the yellowed grass, his knees cramped and flecked with crumbs of dirt, he knew how stupid that was. A more likely outcome: Kyle missing as usual, the gun going off in his hands, the startled bird flapping away, Byron’s high-pitched giggle filling the air.
But he wasn’t giggling now. Instead he shoved his fists into his pockets and shook his head, as if chalking his friend’s gunshot up to freakish luck. Kyle did not respond. The longest stick he could find was half-buried in the grass, about six inches in length. Good enough. He gently prodded the robin into the hole, then pushed the excess stone and dirt over it, making a small mound. He patted the mound with both hands several times before standing up.
“I want my ten bucks,” he said.
Byron’s smile was small and uncertain as he shifted the weight of his long frame from one foot to another. “You can’t be serious.”
Kyle glanced at the Winchester lying against the tree. It had always been too big for him, his right hand barely wrapping around its throat, [End Page 14] which was why he missed so much. Byron, on the other hand, easily managed the gun, its handle snugly fitting into the bare of his palm. Byron had always been bigger, taller, but his growth spurt over the summer only made things worse. Here in the chill of autumn, all Kyle could see was the height and hair of a friend who looked far older than his twelve years, and nothing more.
“You don’t have ten dollars,” said Kyle.
“It was a joke.”
At this, Kyle placed a hand on the trunk of the tree and looked up through its maze of finger-thick branches.
“Fine,” he said. “You can pay me later.”
“Whatever,” said Byron. “I have to get home. I have to pack.”
Kyle shook his head, but walked to the bikes. As he removed the kick-stand, he stared at the small bump of earth that marked where the robin was buried.
Kyle knew he lacked his brother Tommy’s wildness, his aggression. Last summer, before the car accident, they would play games of keep-away in the backyard with Byron. Kyle shied away from the contact and preferred to lag behind while Tommy ran free, his lips twisted into that familiar, maniacal grin. It was his old trophy, that bent mouth, earned from a collision years ago during a high school soccer game.
Byron and Tommy played rough. They shoved at each other as they jabbed for the ball, but it was never a fair fight. Tommy would always play as if he were in a real game, his broken grin a soft “v” on his face, his back bowed, his legs jutting. He pushed and kicked, he hunched low and cracked Byron with his hips, and jarred him with his thighs. Byron, who was only a handful of inches shorter than Tommy, played hard at first, his long limbs dancing and jumping. But the longer they went, the more apparent the disparity in their physical...