Ben balled his fists where he stood. Those three little words were the most lucid things she had said all week. He wondered how his dad felt about all of this, but he seemed his usual self, calm and positive.
Everyone greeted Mr. Flynn as he took his coat off, helping himself to their coat closet like he belonged there before moving through the living room and into the dining room. Although he wasn’t a very tall or large man, there was something about him that was too relaxed in their house, too confident.
Avoiding his gaze as much as possible, Ben sat down beside his teacher. His unfortunate, yet normal, spot.
Mr. Flynn paid special attention to his mom before striking up a conversation about whatever historians talked about between bites of food and sips of their wine. Ben listened with strained ears but didn’t hear the conversation. He was too busy listening for words like test, grades, and failing to comprehend what anyone was saying.
Ben monitored Mr. Flynn from the corner of his eye, searching for some indication he would spill the beans.
No sign yet.
He took a bite of the lasagna.
It was delicious. Several short cooking classes and years of practice after their mom got sick had turned their dad into a pseudo-chef. The next bite felt thick in his mouth.
His panic spiked as his thoughts raced. What if Mr. Flynn had witnessed the locker incident somehow? It had been a crowded hallway, but it was still possible. If he was losing control like his mom, Mr. Flynn would know exactly how that looked. His face was the first Ben had seen when he woke up in the hospital all those years ago.
“How’s Mr. Flynn’s class been treating you, Ben?” His dad had a jovial expression on his face, like he had meant to tease Mr. Flynn instead of him. Ben’s cheeks warmed nonetheless.
“Good.” He shoved a large bite in his mouth.
“Oh, is that so? Well, Ravi, maybe you’re a better teacher than I gave you credit for.” His dad laughed, and it amazed Ben how a reply that sounded so positive could be so negative.
“Actually,” Mr. Flynn started. The food hardened in Ben’s stomach. This was it. He was going to tell his dad he had failed. “I wanted to talk to him after dinner about that.”
Ben glanced at his dad, afraid of his reaction.
His dad looked skeptically from Mr. Flynn to his son for a moment and then continued to eat. “Whatever you say. Ben’s old enough to handle himself now, so I’ll leave it to you two.”
A clatter startled Ben, and he scrambled to pick his fork back up. He couldn’t believe those words had just come out of his dad’s mouth. Maybe he wouldn’t freak out as much as Ben had expected, but his dad shot him a quick warning. If his dad knew how bad it actually was, Ben wouldn’t be getting off with such a mild response.
The weight in his chest dissipated a bit, knowing Mr. Flynn wasn’t going to say anything about it at the table.
“So, I wanted to tell everyone something.” Abi had hardly eaten, and Ben finally noticed there was something different about her. She buzzed with excitement. All eyes turned on her and the words rushed out. “Indie Youth Magazine decided to publish my piece!”
“Abi, that’s wonderful!” Their mother was the first to respond, followed quickly by their dad and Mr. Flynn, bursting into congratulations.
“I knew they would accept it, honey, that’s great.” Dad beamed at Abi, his smile lines bunching up at the corners of his eyes.
Another emotion tainted Ben’s excitement for his sister, and he tried to tamp it down. His parents never treated his accomplishments with this much excitement. But he knew Abi had been working for nearly a year on winning that competition. He wanted her to get out of Logan’s Bluff as much as she did, even if there was no hope for him.
He was proud of her in a way. After their mom had gotten sick, his dad had pulled him aside. It was up to Ben to look after Abi. And that’s what happened. The two of them would scurry through their shared bathroom to his room and turn up the TV volume to drown out their mom’s screams during the darker times.
All of that was over now. It was almost time for Abi to move on.