Cyrus rushed through the doors of the diner eager for a glance of Andi and Buffy. He never liked to be late, and it hurt to be late on Andi's half-birthday of all days. Half birthday celebrations were a long-time Good Hair Crew tradition. It didn't do for one of them to be missing.
He spotted the girls at a table in the back of the room. "You're late," Buffy said when he walked up.
"Dental cleaning," Cyrus said with a nod. "Didn't you get my text?"
"Of course," Andi said with a smile. "We got it full fifteen minutes ago. Here, take your party hat." He sat down next to Buffy and slipped the hat over his head pulling the strap gently under his chin.
"And soda," Buffy added pushing a tall glass his way. "Strawberry, your favorite."
"Thanks," he said with a grateful smile. He lifted his glass in the air. "To us and the lovely Andi Mack on her half-birthday. May you have a day as amazing as you are." The toast ended with a bubble blowing contest like it always did. Cyrus' eyes wandered to Buffy's glass knowing that she as usually would be the winner.
Letting go of his straw, he cleared his throat. "How does it feel to be thirteen and a half?" he asked. "I've always imagined that it would be different somehow." Buffy glared at him, and he gave her his best smirk.
"Except for everything with my…uh… mom and dad, it feels completely normal." Andi said with a thoughtful look on her face. "Just like every half birthday."
Bummer, Cyrus thought to himself. He had hoped thirteen and a half would be when everything would change for the better.
Just then, he spotted the waitress coming with a tray full of food. What a relief! He felt very hungry like he always did after a dentist appointment. This was going to be good. When the waitress set down the tray, he glanced it over and was shocked.
Staring him in the face was a bowl of steaming baked beans! He took one look and shivered.
Suddenly, it was August 9, 2011, and he was not in the diner with Andi and Buffy. Instead, he sat across from his mom at the booth of prestigious Boston restaurant. His plate was full with of beans, bread, and asparagus, and the bright light above gave the room a cheery glow.
"There's something I need to tell you, Cyrus," his mom said. The look on her face was calm, but he could see nervous crinkles in the corners of her eyes. "Your dad and I have decided it would be better for everyone if we separate. It's not healthy for kids your age to see their parents fighting. Everything will be so much better this way. Your dad is planning to get a house in town, so you'll still get to see him whenever you want."
Cyrus looked down at his food willing himself to maintain control. He had been expecting this. Parents don't fight when everything is alright, and the marriage health questionnaires laying around the house had not escaped his notice. In fact, he had been waiting for this news for the past several months. Still, hearing the words outside his head had a profound impact on him. He felt shocked and bewildered wondering when he had lost his grip on life. He had always believed that his life was under his control and anticipating his parents divorce had lead him to think that he would be ready when it came. But instead of prepared, he felt out-of-control even over his own reaction. He hurriedly took a big bite of baked beans hoping to avoid the questions he knew that his mom would ask.
"You okay, honey?" his mom asked gently.
He looked up quickly and tried to swallow. To his surprise, nothing happened; his throat stayed full. He tried to take a breath only to realize that he couldn't. He was choking. The seconds felt like hours, and as they passed he couldn't help believing that he was dying. He had always wondered how he would go, but he would have never imagined going like this—unable to secure the one thing he needed for life.
He closed his eyes expecting to collapse in the booth any second. Instead, he felt his mother's strong arms squeezing his middle. Before he knew what was happening, a bit of bacon came flying into his mouth. He could breath; he was alive.
"Poor Cyrus," his mom said. She took a seat in the booth and pulled him onto her lap for a hug. "Such a brave boy." She stroked his forehead gently.
He savored the warmth of her hug for a moment, but then he stopped himself. No, he didn't need coddling or babying. He was strong. He was alive. He was fine.
"Mom," he said wiggling off her lap. "I'm okay."
"You sure?" she asked.
"Of course," he said confidently putting on his bravest smile.
"Cyrus? You okay?" Andi's voice instantly brought Cyrus back to the present.
"Of course," he said resolutely unable to lift his stare from the beans. He saw Buffy noting his glance.
She put her hand on his shoulder. "We weren't expecting you to eat the beans, Cyrus. We got macaroni and cheese for you." She passed him the bowl.
Dishing himself a large helping of noodles, he realized that he had to conquer the beans. He couldn't let himself live with the lingering doubt that he couldn't control his destiny. He had to take charge. He would take a helping of beans.
To Andi and Buffy's surprise, he grabbed the spoon putting the smallest serving of baked beans on his plate. He took his spoon to his mouth and shoved a small bite of beans in. He swallowed and smiled. He was in control again