((Ben Fields continued from The Rising Tide))
Lana had asked for something Ben normally didn't go out of his way to purchase. She did that often, but her request this time was...
A protective bed of unnecessary stationary pieces wouldn't hide the fact that there was product of a distinctively feminine nature in his basket. If anyone from Cochise stumbled onto his path... He'd agonized back and forth on it for his share of time, leaning nonchalantly as he could manage against the cold metal pylon of a display's rack worth of discount Frito-Lays products. No, fuck it. The adult thing to do was just man up. A hand reluctantly dumped all the disguises he'd improvised onto the shelving. Exchanged them for a bag of Cool Ranch, while he was at it. Lana would like that. He briskly marched to checkout, not caring if he was going to run into some kid who'd recognize his face but keeping an eye peeled all the same. He kept maybe just a bit of preemptive tension in his well-sculpted ankle tendons, ready to duck down an aisle.
But he got the tampons and the chips and was out without further incident. Damn, what had he even been afraid about? He was an older brother doing his job for his suffering younger sister. Totally valid reason to be spending a Saturday in the feminine hygiene aisle, he curtly assured himself. His free hand was hovering protectively close to the plastic bag cradling his purchases, ready to hide the goods at a whisper of danger. Totally valid.
The breath he didn't know he'd been quietly holding fled his lungs as he cracked the house door open. He cleared the stairs with neat strides. Lana had been confined to the upstairs bathroom by present circumstances; borne primarily of poor planning on her part but Ben wasn't about to go lecturing. Yet. It wasn't his body, he had no right calling her out for things that were reasonably out of her control. Or however all of that was supposed to work.
"Got it, Lana." He almost barged through the barely ajar door but caught himself with enough time to spare. Just shove the stuff through the door crack, that would be enough. There was shuffling and groaning from the other side, a bunch of noises almost as awkward to hear as they must have been to make.
"God, I was half scared you were gonna chicken out. Thanks!" A hand like Ben's at smaller scale brusquely liberated him of his burden, he returned that arm to his side. Rolled his eyes without witness, his ego playfully pinched:
"You underestimate me at your peril." There were a number of questions Ben could have tacked on, the usual concerns and blanket assurances. But again, not his place to question. Or think about, really. What happened on the other side of that door was something between a girl and... however that metaphor could reasonably have been worked out. A silence followed, one that Lana seemed intent on using:
"Just saying I wouldn't put it past you." Insubordination. Ben knew it was just Lana's 'style', she was about as smart as he was and far less shy about using it as the years rolled by. Personally he thought contrarianism wasn't a good look on her. But he'd learned after a few heart-to-hearts that his little sister also didn't wear criticism so well, no matter how gentle he tried to keep it. So he just smirked through it all, a smile that brightened when she was through the door, once more right as rain. Here she was. One of his most cherished possessions, already a head taller than he was. It was a little fact of physiology that filled his chest with a mini swell of pride, as much as it also ground his manly ego into beef chuck. It seemed right, somehow, that between the two of them he was the one who had inherited the literal short end of the stick.
Promising for the future, as if fortune only smiled more on the Fields as time crept on. Mom's job- which Ben swore he mentally tracked and tabbed the details of to a greater extent than Mom herself did- only grew more lucrative as she slowly worked herself into seniority. He'd sent out his applications and had reason to believe he had prospects for a good state on a baseball scholarship. He'd won his heart out for the Coyotes and it seemed the favor was being returned. Lana was putting in her hours and showing a talent for math and essays, and heaven knew that was a winning combo in the academic world. Yep, the future was looking promising.
"Put it past me? Damn Lana, cut me some slack." Ben fiddled with what was left of the grocery bag while Lana led the way, crossed the bare corridor to her door. "Didn't I just go through the fire and flames on your behalf? Walk the extra mile? Given that it's literally half a mile from here to Safeway?" They were in Lana's room now, a sanctum sometimes enemy territory and sometimes the coolest hangout in the house. He heartily approved of the posters she rocked, gnarly if time-beaten (money concern made mint condition less of a concern) posters of classic frontmen like Casablancas, Brock, and Banks. Lana threw herself onto her tye-dye bedspread (she'd done that one herself, narrowly averting staining the family room couch in the process), half sitting and half toppled over.
"I'm grateful, yes," Lana asserted. Then snorted, "And Safeway's a quarter of a mile, don't kid yourself." Ben gave that one an exaggerated shrug, she'd probably got him there.
"Still hustling on your behalf. Nursing the wounds of a hard fought battle." A lazy finger outstretched to chide. "Didn't they tell you to celebrate your veterans in school?"
"Dunno what you got out of it but I thought Veteran's Day was just good for the school holiday."
"Shit. You got that right." Okay, Ben wasn't the sort of dude who would treat tradition so blase. But it was Lana and this was the sorta stuff she liked to say sometimes. All cool. There were worse things she could spit than a little high-schooler tongue-in-cheek. "But you gotta cut a guy some slack. That aisle in the store is the damn Manigot Line for those of us sporting XYs." Ben didn't know, nor did he care, how he was supposed to pronounce that French. He read history, he didn't speak it.
"So just invade through the Low Countries then." Someone had been reading his books. Ben mulled on the response for a moment before giving up with eyes passing heavenward. Lana joined him in considering the finish of the ceiling. "Yeah okay, I dunno what it means anymore either." Pfft abound. Lana gestured for her bro to sit, without hesitation he dropped himself right there onto the floor. Tossed Lana her Doritos, she cooed in delight. Threw in a, "but okay, I will admit. You are brave and all that, for making such a daring store raid on my behalf." About as convincing a concession as Chamberlain had ever made in his political career. But hey, Ben would take it. Even if it was the result of multiple bribes. It was probably the most Lana had ever ideologically budged since the Thanksgiving incident with all the spoon catapults. Cleaning house had been a three day hell after that one.
"All thanks and praise can be left in written format on my door. So, how's the old grind going? That burly dude on the team who's bros with George mentioned the two of you killed it on your Twain essays." Fuck Twain with a stake, but at least someone in the family understood all the talk about themes and archetypes and whatever. Lana cracked open the bag of chips and took a handful, offered the same Ben's way. Tempting, but he had to have some restraint. Dinner was coming up. Crumbs on the carpet. So on and so forth.
"No? Suit yourself." Another handful went down without preamble before she unceremoniously pushed her snacks aside. "Yup. Everything else is going according to plan, so I can't complain." Lana mulled on that for a moment. "Except about Ramsey, because holy hell."
"Heard that one before. You and every girl who doesn't somehow get on her lesbo committee of favoritism." Lana's eyes flickered a bit at that one. Imperceptible to the average man, maybe even the average older brother, but Ben had a knack for this sort of thing. Lana's eyes told stories that Ben could read like books, and he had almost every possibly emotive configuration of her thin irises figured out. A twinge of irritation, maybe. Lana had picked up a kinda sympathy for a certain breed of folk from her social circles... It was whatever, Ben had nothing to do with any of that. It was a topic that needed no broaching. The moment passed, the conversation kept going. Maybe he could throw her a fast one, Coyote style. A little observation those days he'd walk her home from school:
"So. You and George. Is it just me, or-?"
"No. No, you're not going there." Ben felt the arrogant smirk creeping over his face before his lips had even twitched. Lana was flushing some kinda ruddy beet red. Making it way too easy. "No, no, stop looking at me like that! You don't have shit on me, bro!" Hard to believe with the choppy, half-breath giggling.
"Nothing wrong with it, Lana. I mean I'll have to do the usual arm twisting on the perp, make sure he's not trouble, but if he checks out I'll give it a thumbs up."
"L-Legit, Ben, it's- hee, haa- it's not like that!"
"Oh come on, I'm not even in your classes and I know the two of you are off trading googly eyes. The toast of first period homeroom, Lana Fields and George Spinoza!" Ben stretched his arms to the ceiling in elaborate pantomime. He was hardly the stalwart of drama club but he had at least a couple of scenes in him. "I'm seeing the doves and wedding bells now. Fuck, I'd better add that to the savings budget." Always thinking two steps ahead, even if in jest. Lana was busily becoming an infrared signature. She started to flail a couple of tense fingers his way, Ben flinched before he realized she hadn't started the throwing quite yet.
"Shut u-u-hup! I'm serious, it is n-not like- hah, hah- like that at all!" Okay, it was only fair Ben heard out the defense. Proper procedure and all. "If I could- fuck- stop giggling! Ugh... There we go. Look, George is legitimately the sort of guy I could go for, yeah. I admit it, I admit it... Though the shit-eating grin on your face is beginning to make me wish I hadn't admitted that much." Ben couldn't help it. This was a huge haul, prying actual confessions out of 'Stonewall' Lana's mouth. "But he and I, we're just not meant to be."
"Don't go knocking on yourself like that Lana, you're the catch of your grade." Show Ben any girl even half his younger sister's caliber in her grade and he would have showed that man El Dorado. And the business end of a fist, for perving on girls like that in the first place. "Look if it's boy problems you're having it's nothing. Trust me, dudes that age go for anything with a pulse that breathes in their direction, in fact all you gotta do is-"
"Hey. That's not what I meant, bro."
"Okay, okay. Dude's obviously just playing hard to get, look. Obviously I dunno how hard all of this is on you, I get it, first love is a crazy thing and the hormones and all that..."
Lana nodded at that... In a somewhat restrained sense. Ben did acknowledge the morsel hint of the mood, but he plowed on. Determined not to notice that the subject was no longer quite what he thought it was, he continued, "I'm not gonna throw dumb platitudes your way, I'm just saying. There is a concrete plan that can win you the heart of almost any dude of your choice with his head on right, and if you're angling to mack on a dude without all his brains in place well I'm sorry but that ain't my expertise."
"I get that." Maybe Ben needed to get some ear work done, clean out the pipes, he swore Lana was getting quieter by the second.
"Yeah, so I mean. Like I said, no platitudes, I'm not in the business of bullshit. I'm just thinking all we gotta do is play this out smart. I'm not talking charts and graphs or any nerdy shit like that but-"
"George is gay."
Lana's eyes were gone at that, shying away from his at the same blitzkreig speed she usually had when she had to confess a detention or admit that she had been the one to flood the laundry room. Ben felt a breath catch in his throat, quietly choked on his once innocent words for a moment. Had to sharply sigh to force it all out. Cool. All cool. None of his business, the dudes Lana chose to share her time with. Even if they amounted to mistakes of sentience. It was all whatever. Lana didn't have to dodge his gaze like this, this was just stupid.
"Hey." That came out more curt than Ben would have liked. With a grunt and a throat clear he forced his sudden uneasiness and definitely-not-misplaced concern to stop mucking up his words. "No need to get all gunshy, not like this is a problem or anything."
"But it is a problem, Ben." Ben almost didn't even hear, and he kind of realized he wasn't especially prepared to. He floundered for the right words. A second of failure later and other kinds of words were coming out instead:
"... What did you just say?"
"It's. A problem. Ben." Okay, well. There were her eyes again. That was the tense-lids grit-teeth look Lana liked when she was ranting about a friend. Not in a petty 'ha ha girls my age are idiots' sort of way, but one of those times where Ben had to be ready to run for the tissues in case Lana worked herself into frustrated tears. Tears that were somehow, someway, Ben's own fault this time. He could feel his brow slowly crumpling into a singular line, and he didn't even know if it was frustration or some kinda weird guilt that was driving it's white hot poker into the folds of his brain.
"Look," he tried. "You're overreacting, Lana." After all, she always did this anyways. Got way too hot under the collar about things that didn't really matter. Youth and the young and all that shit. "How I happen to think about some people isn't a big deal."
"Yeah. Treating an entire group of perfectly good people who haven't done shit to you is 'no big deal'." Her acid tone said everything else that she hadn't already said. Ben nearly stood up there and then, ready to bring all of his height into the fray. Holding himself back was such a Herculean effort he could feel his blood ricocheting in his veins from the exertion, sending a wave of dizziness through him that only made him feel all the more pissed. Why this? Why now? It had been him and Lana, alone against the world, through the thick and thin of an entire screwed up life. She did see that, right? Was it too much to ask for at least one person who understood the few simple things he was about without all the crock and drama?
"I've heard this a million damn times, Lana." He had, he really had. Broken record players all over the place in Cochise. As if they'd be parading Oberfell on a city-wide picket march any day now. Whatever. Let live, let them all do the weird ass shit they wanted. But here, in his home, he'd expected sanctuary. Not this. "I've got my own opinions. My own," he iterated forcefully, through a jaw increasingly locked in place by his own impotent fury, a fury he didn't even know the target of. "We can all be adults about-"
"Could you be an adult around George, bro?" Lana threw the question at him with no small splash of venom biting at the air. "Could you look him in the eyes and respect him for all he is?" Ben tried to open his mouth but Lana was a step faster, cutting him off. "You look me in the eyes and tell me that you could be civil with my friends, with ass-backwards thoughts like yours. No storming out, no cold shoulder. Just you and a boy who happens to like boys. Huh?" Share a room with something like him. Something that threw aside the natural order with such disregard-... Ben finally stood at that point. Lana followed suit with a stubborn grunt, and then the siblings were each trying to tower over one another. Physically, morally, pick a poison.
"You. You do you, Lana. But in this house..." Ben pointed a fist and a finger at the door. His door. "You keep your mouth shut about things that you dunno shit about, get it?"
"I-..." Oh no. This little lady wasn't getting a word in edgewise. She'd already made herself way too clear. So it was time he returned the favor:
"You think it's so easy, with all your 'progressive' ideas and morals and whatever? News flash. You don't have a leg to stand on, Lana. You're just a kid. Tell me you know what you're talking about. When you can't even do your own laundry." Each caesura, the look of outrage on Lana's face grew. Each caesura, another needle was stabbed through Ben's chest. He didn't want to be the one doing this to her. But she needed to hear this, that's what he knew. It was his job, to make sure Lana didn't lose sight of the important things in life. Get tangled up in all this superfluous nonsense when there was a real home and a real family to tend to. Lana snarled in frustration, through her teeth it was muffled but all the more piercing as she tried and failed to cage her howl behind her lips:
"Try to use that on me, fine. I don't care Ben, you and I both know I'm the one whose right. Homosexuality is scientific, Ben, it's fucking scienc-!"
"Tell Mom that." Lana gulped back anything else she had for him. Ben pressed. "Come on, I want to see it. When she gets home. Look her in the eyes and tell her the things you're telling me." Lana was beginning to tremble dangerously, fish mouthing for words that she could no longer breathe. Ben, even with his molars slowly grinding into enamel dust, wanted so badly to run for the Kleenex. But this wasn't the time for that. This was the time to give the lecture, to do it right. Make sure Lana understood what kind of roof was over her head. Her own good. All for her own good. "What would Mom think. Lana. What would Mom think?
"What..." Ben righteously paused, searched for something to drive the point home. And then.
"What would Dad think?" ... And in an infinitesimally short blip of time Ben already understood that he'd crossed a line.
Nobody spoke for some time after that, maybe just seconds, maybe minutes. Maybe entire hours elapsed with only the silent belting of the singer posters around them making any sort of attempt at noise. Ben had shocked himself into silence. Just one name. A single word, and he suddenly felt the acute need to drag himself into the crawlspace and die. Lana's tears had frozen, wetting the line of her lashes, as she stared at him in some sort of daze. No doubt, she couldn't believe it either.
"Lana... I didn't mean..." No, words were so inadequate now. He shouldn't have even bothered to think them, let alone try to pathetically push them out. Ben didn't dare move. Not a muscle more. If he shifted any further God would zero him out and smite him for his sins. Not like he didn't deserve that. Lana slowly sunk back to her bed, now sitting in a subdued position, hands clasped to her knees as she stared blankly at Ben's chest. Probably straight through him. Ben wanted to sink himself. Crawlspace, or at least into his bedroom where he could pretend he wasn't a colossal disgrace to...
"... I'll have dinner ready by five." Ben didn't even know how to be quiet, how to be ashamed. A gun muzzle and a combination lock weren't enough to make his voice as small as he felt. "Mom's coming home early, we can eat with her tonight."
Ben's feet slogged at first, as if his sister's flooring was swamp, but he quickly picked up the pace as he traversed the empty and dead home. Yeah. Tons of responsibilities left unfulfilled for the day. When it was all said and done he'd do what he had to do. That was all he needed to know. Or so he told himself, without conviction.
((Ben Fields continued in Sadness Augmentation))
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The area around Cochise High School is a quiet, sleepy place, composed almost entirely of small-to-medium-sized houses, with a couple apartment buildings on the far edges. The architecture of the area has a rustic feel to it, featuring lots of stucco and pastel colors, and many of the houses are extremely similar in floor plan due to being largely designed by one architect during a period of growth in the city, lending the area a feeling of sameness. The neighborhood exudes a friendly atmosphere between its twists and turns and tree-lined streets, and indeed the people in the area are known for their hospitality and welcoming nature to those around them, helping their neighbors out whenever necessary.
- Joined: March 27th, 2015, 4:13 am
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