Last week Ben found his father hanging out at Gene’s house.
“What are you doing, going back to my place?”
Ben wished Gene would keep his voice down. It was bad enough he had to come along, walking too slow most of the time. When they left Gene’s place with his change of clothes half an hour before not only was Ben’s dad hanging around as if he and Gene’s dad were really friends when they weren’t, but a little ways down the street Ben had seen Mrs. D coming in her car.
Whatever was going on, Ben was sure it wasn’t going to be good for him, or for Gene, but he couldn’t say why. He just knew he had to go check it out for himself.
“Did you see Mrs. D driving up when we left,” Ben said quietly, hoping Gene would be quiet too.
“My dad and yours said the thing they have in common, the reason they’re hanging out together, is that we’re both in Mrs. D’s class. I don’t know about your dad, but mine wouldn’t know about that if Mrs. D hadn’t told him. I know she’s snogging your dad because we saw it that one time. And I don’t know what she’d doing with my dad, but he’ll snog anyone. And I don’t see her snogging either one of them unless she wants something from them.”
“Oh.” Gene kept pace in silence for a minute, long enough for them to get on the same block as Gene’s house. Then he started walking faster. “Not good,” he muttered. “Follow me. I know a way we can listen in without being seen.”
He guided Ben to a spot between some bushes and the side of the house. There, Gene used a pocket knife and his fingers to pry up a window. Sure enough, once he’d done that, they could hear everything clear, including Mrs. D’s sing-song voice.
“But don’t you see?” She was at her worst for cajoling. Ben saw through her right away, but he doubted his dad would. “It’s for the best for both boys.”
“I don’t know,” Gene’s dad said. “It’s one thing to flunk them, but to turn them over to a school for delinquents… seems like betrayal.”
Gene’s breath hissed in. Ben could see his teeth clinch. Hadn’t he guessed it would be something like this?
“Won’t it be expensive?” Ben’s dad said. Ben could imagine him pursing his lips as he said it.
“Not at all, if you sign over your parental rights.”
Sign over parental rights? Ben’s insides went cold. He didn’t much like his dad, but he didn’t want any right signed away, did he? Well, maybe if it was Dad giving them all to Mom….
“To the state, you mean?” Ben’s dad asked.
“That’s right.” Mrs. D sounded like she was being totally reasonable. “Then be sure to notify the school system. I’ll make sure they realize it’s because of the mental instability we discussed earlier.”
If Gene was angry before, he was vibrating now. So was Ben. The injustice of being accused of being crazy by that lunatic! And to have their father’s vouch for her! And then what? Institutionalized? As in locked away in an sane asylum?
It could happen. It could really happen.
“All right. I can do that,” Gene’s dad said.
“Same here,” Ben’s dad said.
Gene unleashed a really bad swearword, right before driving his fist into the wall.
“I’ll kill him. I’ll kill the f()kn b*st*rd!”
“You’re talking about your own father.” Ben glanced nervously at the window. Gene’s dad could come reaching through it at any moment. The results would not be good for any of them.
“Did you just hear something,” Mrs. D. asked.
“Probably the neighbors. Their always making some noise or another.”
Gene reached up like he’d crawl right through the window. Ben grabbed a fist full of his shirt and yanked him back. Gene just looked at him. All the anger and frustration Ben had ever felt was there, and then some. It was hopeless. They both knew it. There was nothing they could do.
“F()ck it!” Ben said, sounding just like Gene. It felt good to say the word. “Let’s do something!” Ben turned around. He was going to go in there and face all three grown ups. They didn’t scare him anymore. Not too much anyway.
But Gene stopped him. How could he do that? He felt the same, didn’t he?
“No. You don’t know what it’s like, getting beat up. You got it bad but,” he shook his head, “you don’t know.”
“Well, what about you?”
“It’s different for me. I’m used to it.”
The dad’s and Mrs. D were still talking, talking louder than ever. They didn’t think it meant anything when Gene hit the wall. But it did. Ben was going to make sure it did. Even if he couldn’t do anything right now, he wasn’t going to let this go. When he got done, no one was going to be able to walk away from it.
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