Just when Ben and Suzie had arrived at an accord regarding Ben’s problems at school, Drew had to get hurt. While Suzie, Miranda, and Vin carried Drew into the house, Ben had a little talk with Alice. Yes, I mean me. I’ve made a couple of appearances in this story. Ben had been feeling pretty good about life. Things weren’t so good with his father, but he could live with it. Frankly, life in the house since Vin and Drew and Miranda moved in has been pretty interesting. Suzie worried, but Ben didn’t. Maybe he should have.
Once Suzie and Miranda got Drew settled on the couch Suzie ran to the kitchen for an ice pack. The lump on the back of Drew’s head worried her. She suspected he should go to the hospital, but he flatly refused.
With the ice half way from the freezer to the faucit, she lost it. Her breath caught. Her hand shook. First Vin, now Drew. What next? She leaned against the counter next to the sink, one hand to her forehead, the other holding the tray of ice.
When she had heard the sound of a gun going off so close to her house, she’d first thought they were under siege. Then, when no other shots were fired, she recalled that Drew and Ben were on the porch. Either or both could be dead. She’d run into Miranda in the hall, loosing precious seconds to arguing over what might be happening.
Few things could be worse than reaching the porch to find neither Ben nor Drew there. A dozen nightmare scenarios flashed through her head, each worse than the last. Instead, a silver Jeep Cherokee peeled out leaving Ben kneeling next to Drew.
Ben’s explanation had come out garbled, but Suzie knew all she needed to. Ben was all right and Drew was injured but alive. The old-fashioned aluminum tray in her hand rattled. She could have lost them. She could have lost them both.
Suck it up, Suzie Hammacker. She straightened her back. When Ben walked in she had the ice out of the tray and wrapped up in a plain, white dishtowel.
“Mom, do you know the lady who was at Cindy’s party, the one with curly blond hair?”
Suzie shook her head. “Doesn’t ring any bells. Why?”
“Nothing.” Ben shrugged.
He looked so young to her right then. There were times, a lot of times, when he looked like he was on the verge of turning into a man. Though his shoulders were still narrow, they were wider than his thin waist and promised to fill out much like Drew’s. His smooth, unlined face had a manly angle to the jaw. He wasn’t as tall as she was yet, but had grown an inch in the last month alone. Yet when he sucked in his lower lip as he started at the floor he looked like her little boy.
“It’s all right, Honey. You’re all right and Drew’s all right.” She put an arm around him for a quick hug. When she went to let go, he bumped her, a silent plea for more. “You must have been terrified.”
Ben nodded. His voice came out unsteadily. “I thought Drew was dead. I couldn’t tell if he was breathing. How did you know he was OK when you pushed his eyelids up?” Ben pulled away, his brow wrinkled in puzzlement.
“His eyes reacted to the light. Better yet, they did it evenly, so he didn’t have concussion.”
“How do you know so much, Mom?”
Suzie shrugged. She wasn’t about to tell her only child how very little she knew. “How did you and Drew end up half way down the block?”
“The men sort of scooped me up when they left Cindy’s house.”
“What? They came out of Cindy’s place and crossed to our porch to scoop you up?”
“No. Drew and I went over there when we saw them. The one who tried to give me a ride went out on top of the porch and yelled at me, but Drew aimed his gun at the other one. Then Drew ran into Cindy’s house and just sort of followed. He shot them when they came down the stairs, but it didn’t even slow them down. I guess I was in the way ‘cause I was in front of the door. They scooped me up.” Ben turned his thumbs out in a gesture of hopeless appeal.
“Then what happened?”
“The one who tried to give me a ride wanted me to go with them. He dragged me to the jeep. The other one didn’t, but he tried to get me into the jeep to shut the other one up.”
“Wait… are you telling me…?”
“Yeah. There are two red-haired men.”
Suzie felt faint. Suddenly it seemed as if twice as much trouble hung like a cloud over her house. She yanked a chair out form where it rested against the table and sat down. “Oh no.”
Ben went on to describe how one of the men had pulled out a bat and hit Drew in the back of the head, but Suzie’s mind and heart were elsewhere.
Drew and Vin had brought danger to her household. It was too late to do anything about it now. The red headed men had marked her household, singled them out for murder and mayhem. Suzie had counted on Drew to protect Ben, but now she could see it wasn’t going to work. Drew meant well, but there was only so much he could do, and his case had to come first.
She had to get Ben out of harm’s way.
She ran through her options in her mind, but already knew there were precious few. She had no family in town to take him, and wasn’t close enough with anyone not living in the household to be able to make such an imposition. There was only one option glaring in her mind, and she hated it.
She leaned into the table, elbow bent, head in hand and groaned. It killed her to have to do this, not only because she knew he would hate it so much, but because of what it was going to do to herself. But she had to. Anything else would be selfish on her part.
“Ben, I know this is going to be hard for you to understand, but it’s for the best.”
Ben turned worried eyes toward her. His lower lip twitched down. She wished desperately that she could take back what she was about to say.
“Ben, you’re going to have to go live with your father for a while.”