today is not my day
Two weeks after the debate fiasco, Hal goes to see Ben. He's still working at the Laundromat, still finishes on the hour, but the difference is that this time he doesn't make Hal wait up front. Instead he flops into a pile of warm, newly dry laundry and eats a Slim Jim while Ben cleans up.
"So who won?" The older boy asks, rolling his sleeves up passed his elbows. "Did Queen Ginny take all?"
Hal shrugs. He's become somehow disaffected by Ginny and all her spear-pointed words. "P-P-Probably," he admits with a half smile. "But I heard, I heard, well I, I—she got rejected from, from Yale."
It was told to him with excitement, like the fact that her failure should somehow make him feel better. He hadn't even bothered to try and speak afterwards, because he knows better than anybody that you can dip Ginny into a liquid pile of shit and she'll come out smelling clean.
Ben smiles at him sadly, folding a shirt with one hand. He reaches over to ruffle Hal's hair and shakes his head. He, at least, understands. "I've been thinking about moving," he says with a hesitant grin. "Out of Trenton, maybe even out of Chigaco. I, ah…" he laughs once, rubbing the back of his beck with his soapy hand. "I got accepted to a school in New York. It's a full ride, so all I'd have to do is repeat senior year and then—I don't know. College, maybe."
Hal blinks up at him, jaw slack, and for once he doesn't stutter even once as he asks: "You're leaving Chicago?"
"Yeah. I think so. I've got to find some place to live first. But I don't want to spend the rest of my life working for a Laundromat, Hal."
"But you, but, b-but, I thought, d-don't you love th-the big, the big city?"
Ben laughs sadly, checking his watch once before shrugging his uniform off his shoulders. "Trenton isn't the big city, Hal," he says quietly. "I don't even know if New York is."
"S-so you're, you're, so you're going to, to f-f-find it? The, the, the b-b—the big city?" His stutter gets worse when he's panicking. "But what, what, I mean, what ab-ab-about, what about me?"
Hal thinks about Ginny, waving backwards at him and tugging her jeans onto her hips. Her mouth on his, lifting him onto the table. Staring at him from underneath her fancy new uniform and saying you need to leave. She didn't get into Yale. That's supposed to make him feel better.
"You don't need me, buddy," Ben tells him, looking firmly out of the window and away from Hal. "You were fine before."
Hal blinks at him. "I, I threw a, I threw, I mean I threw a—a cello through the, the, the, through the window. Do, do you, does that sound fine?"
Ben finally turns to look at him, offering up a little shrug. "Come on, I'm done with my shift," he says, moving to the door and holding it open for Hal. They walk into the bright sunshine and Hal blinks, eyes recovering from the darkness of the Laundromat. "Hal," Ben says, "Just keep throwing cellos and you'll be fine."
"But it, but, it wasn't m-m-m…it wasn't even my, my cello," Hal mumbles miserably.
"I've got to go, Hal." He hesitates. "You'll do all right. You can come visit me. We'll reminisce. It'll be great."
He doesn't say it out loud, but Hal thinks: I've heard that before.