The door bell chimed.
“I got it!” Adam raced toward the front door with pounding steps and a football tucked in the crook of his skinny arm. Frames rattled and the dishes in the dining room cabinet clinked.
Burt set down the crudités with ranch dip and strode after his son.
“It’s the Andersons,” shouted Adam as a crisp fall wind stormed across the opened threshold.
“Hey, Martin,” said Burt. He reached over Gavin’s shock of red hair to shake Martin’s hand.
“Hey.” They entered and Martin helped tugged off Gavin’s jacket while Burt shut the door.
“Come on,” said Adam, yanking at the other boy’s arm, “the game’s almost started.”
“Lay off the snacks until kick off ok?” said Martin.
“Yeah,” said the boys in tandem as they ran back into the den.
“Violet’s got more,” said Burt as he hung the Anderson’s coats onto the stand stuck in the corner.
“She’s good like that.”
Burt smiled and shrugged. “Where’s Bethany?”
Martin winced. Burt cringed.
“Get you a beer?”
Leading the way around the corner and into the wood paneled den, Burt stopped short as the football flew through the air across his path.
“Hey boys,” said Burt as Gavin fumbled the ball. “Take it outside if you’re going to play.”
“We’ll stop once the game starts,” countered Adam.
Burt waved the boys off as he stepped behind the bar and pulled two brown bottles from the fridge. He popped the caps on the inset opener and thudded Martin’s drink onto the counter.
“Thanks.” Martin took the middle stool and folded his hands around the drink as he leaned into the bar.
Taking a sip, Burt stared across the room where the pre-game speculation switched into a car commercial on the massive flat screen hung on the wall. The ball flew over the center couch and table, where Adam bobbled and then thudded into the bookcases lining the side of room.
“Careful,” said Burt half-heartedly. “Your pick?”
Martin shrugged and continued staring down at the counter. “I hope it’s not a blow out like last week.”
“Doubt it,” said Burt.
The door bell rang again.
“That’ll be Paula and Jesse,” said Violet from the kitchen. The floor creaked as she scurried to answer.
“Come in, come in,” said Violet from the doorway. “It’s freezing out there.”
The pair of women let out a laugh while Jesse sauntered into the den.
“Started yet?” Jesse shook hands with Martin while Burt brought out another beer.
Violet and Paula rounded the corner, the former with a basket of chips in one hand, salsa in the other. The flung football smacked into Pam’s leg as Adam attempted a quick toss.
“Adam,” scolded Violet.
“It’s alright.” Paula scooped up the ball and shovel passed to Gavin who gave a shy grin and prepared another throw. “No damage done.”
Violet deposited the chips and dip onto the bar and accepted a drink from Burt. A quick round of greetings began as the grownups circled the counter and perched on the trio of stools.
“Where’s Bethany?” asked Violet.
Burt winced as Martin stared into his bottle. The room fell quiet, the commentator’s debate and boy’s throws filling the gap.
Martin heaved out a long sigh as the expectation grew. “She’s not coming.”
“She sick or something?” Paula elbowed Jesse in the gut and he sputtered.
Martin shook his head. “No, it’s pretty much over.”
“Over?” Violet laid a hand on Martin’s shoulder and he looked up, fighting to smile.
“Apparently she found better options in LA.”
“You mean she found someone else?” Burt sucked in a swift breath and then filled his mouth with a gulp before he could blurt out more.
“Yeah,” said Martin, taking a swig.
A crash of leather into metal broke the tension along with the tinkle of glass onto the carpet. The five adult heads swiveled as one and found the football bouncing on the floor beneath the sputtering and darkened screen.
“I’m so sorry, mom,” said Adam in a whispered rush. He stood frozen in the corner as if made of wood. Gavin’s gulp was audible as he gripped the back of the couch and fought not to whimper.
Burt thunked his bottle onto the bar and Violet’s mouth dropped.
“Wow,” murmured Paula. Jesse let out a grunt as if punched in the gut.
Burt’s thoughts stumbled forward as he staggered around the bar. “I told you boys to play outside.”
“I know…but dad.”
“Sit down, now.” Violet snapped, thrusting a finger at the couch cushions.
Adam yelped and plopped down, pulling his knees up to his chin and watching his parents cross the room with wide eyes.
“Dad…” whispered Gavin.
“You too,” barked Violet, motioning toward the other end of the couch. Gavin sat, curling in on himself and hanging his head.
“Is it that bad?” asked Paula.
“There’s a f-…hole in the TV,” snapped Burt, barely managing to keep his vocabulary PG. His hands wavered over the busted screen as if unsure where to start.
“You can get it fixed,” suggested Jesse.
“Just get a new one,” offered Paula. “Maybe you can even find a deal with the holiday’s coming up…”
Violet shook her head and waved the other couple quiet.
After a few seconds of heavy breathing from Burt and Violet’s scowling at the damage, Martin let out a sharp chuckle. He descended quickly into rabid laughter.
Burt and Violet pivoted from the screen as Gavin turned away from his staring contest with his shoes.
“You ok?” asked Burt.
“You think that’s bad?” Martin rubbed his sleeve across his eyes as his shoulders shook. “Not like you can’t replace it,” he said with a wave toward the TV. “Just go to a store, and poof,” he snapped his fingers, “everything’s back to normal.”
Violet and Burt glanced at one another, their frowns melting. Their finger tips met and they let out their own soft chuckles.
“If you bring the chips and beer we can watch the game at my place,” said Martin, hopping off the stool. “No one there’s going to mind anymore.”
“Yeah, alright,” said Burt after giving Violet’s hand a quick squeeze.
“You’re just going to leave it?” asked Jesse, gesturing at the busted television.
“It’s just a TV,” said Violet, thumping Jesse’s shoulder.
Burt wheeled and Adam cringed as Violet matched his stare.
“Grounded,” said Burt.
“And you’re going to be working this off for weeks.”
“Give him a break,” said Martin. He handed over the chips and salsa to Paula. “Come on kiddo.”
Leaping off the couch, Gavin raced to his dad’s side and hugged him around the waist.
“Don’t get all mushy,” said Martin, scrubbing Gavin’s hair. “You’re going to be helping him ok?”
Gavin nodded, rubbing his face into Martin’s side. Martin looked over at Burt who had collected a case from the back of the bar.
“Good enough or are you going to lock them in the garage?”
“We’ve got duct tape,” suggested Violet with a wink as the boys both gasped.
“I’ve got some old mix tapes too,” offered Burt with a snicker.
Violet shook her head and hefted the tray of vegetables into Martin’s free hand.
“Let’s just go watch the game.”