Ben stopped to ditch his bulky jacket when his mom and Gene went off to the kitchen. There wasn’t much room on the coat rack, so he slung it over the suitcase that Drew had mailed to them.
Something was bothering Ban. His thoughts were a little too misty to be sure, but it might have something to do with the way Gene figured out all about how the suitcase got there without being told, but Ben couldn’t. He’d been working so hard to see things lately, but it didn’t seem to be working.
Before Ben could move toward the kitchen, Gene and his Mom popped into the hall, followed by Vin, who was holding a spatula and waving them off. Guess it wasn’t a good time for Mom to whip something up for Gene after all.
“I’m sorry.” Mom put her hand on Gene’s arm like she wanted to console him or something. “But it looks like we’re going to have quite the dinner soon.”
“That’s ok.” Gene shrugged. “I can wait.”
“Oh. All right.” She let her hand drop. “Well. I have work to do.” She came up the hall, gave Ben a quick smile, and then went into her office.
Gene went into the den. That thing that was bothering Ben about him bubbled up. Ben followed him.
“Hey, Gene. I got a question. How come you’re so much better about noticing things than I am?”
“See what things?” Gene looked kind of guarded.
“Like with the post office date thing on the suitcase. I mean, if I’m going to be a writer, I’ve got to notice all kinds of stuff. Details. I’m supposed to care about details. It’s for my career.”
“Huh. Career?” Gene gave Ben a funny look. “I don’t do it because I want to.”
“Well, then what is it that makes you see all this stuff?”
“If I didn’t I’d get smacked.”
He looked totally serious. Ben just stared, getting it, because he knew about Gene and his dad, but kind of not getting it, too.
“Look,” Gene said kind of irritated. “All my life, I had to find things out for myself, and I better do it before my Dad noticed or it was going to hurt. The place was never clean, so stuff doesn’t show up as easy as it does here. Like I had to notice if there was a grocery store bag laying around cause then maybe there’d be food in the house. If I was lucky, I could get a hold of it and stash it in my room for later, when we’d run out again.”
“Is that all?”
“It matters. That and stuff like how many of what kinds of cans and bottles – beer or hard liquor. How he stacked them could mean he was feeling good and might buy me something or it could mean he lost his job and we were going to move again. And it’s not like I could just ask if I was curious about something. I had to figure it out for myself. And fast. Before he had a chance to mess up all the clues so I wouldn’t ever know. I once figured out I was about to get a new mother from a lady’s shoe print in spilled flour in the kitchen floor.”
“A… new mom?” Ben’s had never considered that possibility.
“Yeah, I had a lot of them. Some of them were kind of nice, but most were mean, or just ignored me. None of them ever lasted all that long. They ran away a lot.” Gene nodded to himself, his mouth all pulled down like something bothered him. “All the time. Every one of them ran away. So those details you’re playing with… for me they aren’t a game. They’re what stands between me and everything that can go wrong. They are my life.”
“But it isn’t that way now. You live here. No one’s ever going to hit you again.”
Gene shrugged, more resigned than relieved. “Old habits die hard.”
And Ben had thought is own life had been bad. If that was the way you had to live to get good at it, he’d find some other way to be a writer.
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