Lisa glanced up when her son descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. She was reading a magazine while eating her cereal before work.
Ben was still sore. He was still bruised. A yellowing mark marred the side of his face. The wounds had almost completely healed and had started to itch. He grabbed a bowl and sat down across his mother. She flipped a page and took a spoonful of Apple Jacks without looking up or even acknowledging her son. The crunch of the cereal was louder than that of the incessant wall clock.
He sighed and rubbed a hand down his face. This was how she had been since his release from the hospital two days earlier. Quiet.
The first 24 hours had been spent in his room, alternately staring into thin air and crying. His mother's words to him in the hospital and the way she looked at him when he was first released had brought tears to his eyes. Now he was just adjusting to it. He wasn't so sure if that was a good thing.
She closed the magazine and put the bowl in the sink. "Wash this for me, will ya?" And left the room without ever looking him in the eye.
He sighed and felt the familiar knot in his chest throbbing. Tears lined his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. She was right to act this way towards him. It was all his fault. In the three days since his release he hadn't seen Keola's mom. He hadn't seen her in the hospital either. He suspected his mom for keeping him from her. Protecting him in some way. He had her all figured out, he thought somberly. Even if she didn't blame him, she acted differently. She probably didn't think he would notice. And because she had deluded herself into thinking she didn't blame him, she felt it necessary to keep her baby safe. Ben didn't complain. In fact he almost never spoke at all any more. He just slunk back up to his bedroom and hid in his bed.
His bruised ribs still hurt when he put pressure on them, but he didn't talk about it with his mom. He didn't think she would want to hear his complaints.
He had been in the hospital for almost a week. His ribs had hurt really badly and when he started getting headaches they checked him for brain damage. They found no signs of hidden injuries and started considering psychological causes. Some of the nurses claimed he had nightmares about demons and angels and reported it to the doctors. After that he was placed under observation in a closed psychiatric ward for forty eight hours. His mother didn't protest, saying that her son wasn't insane, but very depressed and she wanted the best treatment for him.
Ben knew the truth. She couldn't stand looking at him. She thought he belonged with those psychos on the ward.
The first day he had been approached by a babbling idiot spouting on about bugs in his ears and moths in his brain. That was when it hit him. It took him ten hours to stop crying from the shock.
His mother thought he was crazy.
She thought he deserved to be there.
He was given sedatives and kept for two more days. His mom came to visit him once. She spent the hour sitting across from him with her hands folded. She looked so calm. So ok with the entire screwed up situation that Ben almost flung the table into the wall. But he knew if he had they would've kept him longer. So he played along. He acted nice and stayed to himself.
Those four days in the ward went by in a haze. He had been released with a classified depression.
But where Ben was healed and released, Keo left in a body bag.
He didn't speak to his mother about it at all. During that week Ben was incarcerated Keo was buried.
He picked at the label of his pill box. The pills they gave him were called Paroxetin which were right up there with Fontex, Seroxat and Prozac. There was a whole world of happy pills and all of them sounded like something from the future. The doctor told him to stay on them and not miss a dose. He was told they wouldn't work until after 3 to 6 weeks. The pills made him nauseous and lazy. Sometimes his legs flinched or jumped on their own accord and his hands sometimes shook when he stood up too fast. They made it hard to concentrate and somehow made his nightmares worse. He hated them so he stopped taking them two days after he was released.
Then he researched their side effects online. He wasn't a hunter for nothing. What he found made him shake his head at the small town doctors and their lack of contemporary knowledge on the very drugs they sold. The pills had caused suicidal thoughts in the first three weeks of treatment. Just like the medical article said they would.
He should've stayed in the psyche-ward, he grinned sourly. In his mind he imagined Keo laughing at the joke and felt the throbbing knot in his chest tighten. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. It seemed like he was always tired, but couldn't sleep at night. Instead he slept during the day and aggravated the insomnia. His mom wouldn't be home before another five hours to make him get up. That meant he had five hours of blessed quiet where he could slip into oblivion and forget all about life.
When he woke up, the house wasn't quite as quiet as before. Dimmed noises came from downstairs. Mom was home.
He spent a few moments trying to wake completely before he went down to get something to eat. It was four o'clock in the afternoon already. He was sleeping his days away. That couldn't be healthy he thought as he rolled out of bed.
"Ben? You awake?" Lisa called from the kitchen.
He sighed and opened the door. "I'm up!" He called down grumpily and trudged to the bathroom. After a quick wash and a change of pants he headed down and sat at the dining table.
His mom still wouldn't look him in the eye and he felt like crying in frustration right then and there. And she honestly wondered why he hated being around her? Around everyone? He could see it on their faces. He could see their blame and loathe towards him.
"I'm making chicken curry." She commented without emotion.
"You don't know how to cook, mom." He mumbled into the same magazine his mother had read with equally as little emotion.
Lisa momentarily stopped her preparations and stared at her son. "I'm sticking to the recipe," She said pointedly.
"Hmm," Ben answered without looking up.
She huffed and turned again.
Ben's thoughts were interrupted by the clanking and banging of pans and pots while she tried to find just the right one. He huffed again and was answered by a loud, metallic thump. Lisa scoffed after slamming a pan into the tabletop. Ben straightened slightly and looked at her. Her head was bowed and she was clasping the table. "What's up?" He asked almost as if challenging her. He nearly flinched at the look she sent him. He would've smacked himself over the head if he hadn't been so wrapped up in his own mind.
"What's up?!" She growled at him. "Get up!" She marched around to his chair and pulled him roughly to his feet. The pots were all forgotten.
"Mom!? What the hell!"
She pulled him to the hallway and released him with a nod to get dressed. "Put on your shoes."
"Where are we going?" He asked as dispassionately as he could, which wasn't very. He could already feel himself tearing up at the thought she might finally have had enough. This is it. She's gonna dump me at bus station and never look back.
"To see what you've missed. Get up." She barely allowed him time to lace up his boots before she marched them both out of the house and to the car. "Get in." She ordered and marched to the driver's side.
Ben got in with a convulsive swallow and tried to keep the tears from running down his cheeks. "If we're going s-somewhere at least let me pack-" He forced out of his mouth.
"We're not going that far." She bit him off.
It was like she was suddenly a complete stranger. They drove down through the rural neighborhood and turned right at the main road. "Where are you taking me...?"
She ground her jaw and made a right turn. Ben looked out of the windshield and froze. This was the one place he feared more than the psyche-ward or the bus station or even his school. Above them rose a majestic sign reading: "Evergreen Terrace".
Ben shifted in his seat and swallowed shakily. "Why are we here?" His hands were shaking again and he was about to blame the anti-depressants before he remembered he stopped taking them.
"I need you to see him." She said with wet eyes.
"W-who?" Ben glanced over at her with wide eyes. His chest almost hurt, so tightly it clenched.
Lisa just ground her jaw again and killed the engine. "Get out,"
"W-What…?" She walked around to the passenger side and pulled open the door. At least, he thought, she has the decency to not drag my ass out like a criminal.
"Get out." He swallowed and drew a deep and soundless breath before he got out and walked behind her. He knew why she brought him here. He could feel it even though the reason for it all had never been mentioned in his house. They walked up to an area of the cemetery and stopped in front of a row of gravestones. One plot looked newer than the others.
"N-No…" Ben turned when tears fell from his eyes.
Lisa had hardened considerably seeing her son's mournful expression. She grabbed his face and forced him to look at the plot.
"M-Mom, s-stop!" He tried jerking his head out of her grasp, but she just held on harder and he wasn't about to use force against his mother.
"You need to see him," She said quietly.
"W-Why are you doing t-this to me…?" He sobbed.
Her expression softened. "Because you think it was your fault." She said with empathy.
"Ben, it wasn't-"
"No!" He ripped loose and stumbled back. But he only made it half a step before his butt connected with the grass. The simple gravestone mocked him. It sat quietly and watched his suffering. And Keo's ghost didn't even have the decency to tell him itself.
"You didn't kill him," Lisa said and kneeled.
"S-Stop it!" Ben screwed his eyes shut.
"No, Ben, look at me!" She grasped his cheeks. "I never blamed you, honey." Her voice sounded so heartbreakingly soft. "It wasn't me- I…… it was you, Ben. YOU blamed yourself."
He tried to control his sobbing, but may as well have tried to stop the ocean.
His mom released his cheeks and shifted next to him. "I know how bad you must feel, sweety-"
"You h-have no idea…" Ben muttered darkly and refused to look her in the eye. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Keo's gravestone.
"I know you lost someone very close to you. I know that you feel very alone right now. And I know that I haven't been there for you like I should have," She blinked a tear away. "But I've been grieving too, Ben."
Tears were running down his cheeks when a hollow laugh suddenly bubbled up. "You h-have no idea how alone I feel," He slowly turned his eyes to hers. "You have no idea how I f-felt, being l-locked up in that place f... for f-four days." He laughed again without a trace of humor. "Knowing that my own mother th-thought I belonged there." More tears dripped down his face. "That m-my father wouldn't even come to s-see me."
At that, Lisa's face fell and she seemed to sink into herself. "Ben, I didn't call him."
"I never called him,"
"Wh...-" Ben blinked up at his mother's remorseful face and scrambled back.
He got to his feet and turned.
"Ben!" He ran without looking back. His mom stopped calling for him before he was even out of sight.
He ran, like he had so many times before, till he could barely catch his breath. He ran in a seemingly random direction, but the goal was clear in sight. Katie. Her velvet hair and deep blue eyes. Her whispered words of comfort and reassurance. He needed her in his arms right now. He arrived at her house. It was dark and quiet. Without too much thought he picked up a pebble and threw it at her window. He did it three times before she appeared. She looked down and vanished. He knew she was coming down and stepped back.
Deep breaths were shifting his healing ribs again and again and only adding pain. His hands were still shaking. She exited the house with a worried look around. "Ben? What's wrong?"
He was trembling and crying. His breath hitched and he choked on his answer.
She walked up to him and cupped a hand on his cheek. "Tell me," She begged quietly.
He sobbed again and darted his eyes around the dark. "S-She didn't tell me!"
Kate looked around at his yell. "Shh, Ben you'll wake up the whole neighborhood."
He sobbed again and seemed only to be getting more agitated as the seconds passed.
"Tell me what happened,"
He sobbed and laughed humorlessly at the same time. "K-Keo died." Then he looked at her like that was the reason. And it was. It was more than enough. His eyes were red and hollow. He looked like a dead man walking.
"Ben...." Her own eyes whetted and she reached up a little further. "C'mon inside. You can spend the night with me."
He knew why she was offering to share her bed with him. They'd had sex before. None of them were virgins when they began their relationship. Far from it. But he knew why she offered it now. On this night. So soon after everything that had happened. Pity. He brusquely pushed her hand from his face and backed up with a scowl and even darker eyes.
His eyes softened slightly at her confusion and hurt. "I can't." He turned and ran again. He needed sleep. She was left standing in the dark while he ran away like a coward.
When he reached his house in the dead of night he regretted not taking her up on her offer. He could've used the distraction, but the passion was gone. He couldn't seem to find the desire to sleep with her. He felt less than alive. Like he was dream walking. Yes, he thought as he closed the door to his room behind him, this is a dream. This is the dream and the dreams are reality. He chuckled insanely and flung off his boots and clothes. Maybe the world where Keo died, his mom didn't talk and he couldn't get turned on by his girlfriend was the dream. The real world was the one he so often dreamed about. The one where he was married and passionately in love. The one where he hunted ghosts along with his dad. The fairytale.
He fell onto his bed and fell asleep almost instantly.
But not before thinking one final thought: What if he could somehow make it true?
The next morning
The warm sun shone from a misty sky. Like tinted glass it sparkled on the ground where a thin layer of frost covered everything. His breath puffed in the air. Deep inhales made his lungs ache. He looked up when a door slammed and someone walked out. Class was already in session. Ben was supposed to be there.
Katie expected him to be.
His mom; despite not being there to physically walk him to his seat, expected him to be.
It seemed that everybody had expectations of him. Things he was supposed to be doing. Things he wasn't supposed to be thinking about. His family: being one of them. His mom, telling him to let it go and focus on his own life, had been repeated so often the well intended comfort had lost all meaning. Now he sat on the front porch of his school in the cool morning. The sharp sun was already heating the air and soon it would burn away the thin layer of rime. He sat with his back to the school building and stared out into the street. It was still quiet, but wouldn't stay like that for long. He glanced back up at the dark windows with rooms full of students and teachers. They all wanted something different for him. Most of them wanted the best. But he couldn't help feel that none of them had ever asked what he wanted.
He hated school.
He hated the mind numbing monotony of it. How the days blended together and otherwise simple acts became habits. Creatures of habit made the best prey, he thought to himself. An advice his uncle gave his dad long ago when they thought Ben wasn't listening. Civilians made for the easiest prey.
A father walked by with his two children. Nice guy in an expensive trench coat covering an even more expensive suit. The kids were screaming and yelling and the father was shouting back, completely stressed out. Long hours in an office, he probably hated, to feed the kids that hated him.
Ben decided that he didn't want that. It wasn't a shocking realization because a part of him had always known. He suspected the part of him from his father was the cause of that restlessness and wanderlust. He wasn't normal. Never had been. Being born into something greater than himself had always suited him fine. Even at the tender age of nine he seemed to have the 'hero-role' down perfectly. He still remembered working with his dad to get the kids out of the basement. He still remembered him and the brothers working together on hunting down the trickster years after. Three years ago.
But the thing he remembered most of all was Dean's car. That black beauty and how it sped so quickly into the sunset after Dean found out he had a son. A bitter wave rolled up Ben's throat and caused him to swallow thickly. Dean and Sam had left him. One day after having killed a monster together – one day after finding out Dean was his father – the brothers took off.
Almost two years had passed since then. They left him in that small town with a mother who had continuously lied to him throughout his childhood. And a burning desire to get out and see the world. A numbing feeling of not knowing who he was and not fitting in. They didn't care where Ben was.
He and Lisa hadn't been talking for a long time. They stopped right around the time after Dean left. Before Keo it just didn't mean that much because Ben had his friend. Ben and Lisa started fighting over the simplest things. Things they never would have fought over before, which seemed to irritate him endlessly since.
Katie had watched him sink deeper and deeper into melancholy without being able to fix it. No one could.
On those, cold front steps Ben came to a silent agreement with himself. It wasn't enormous. It didn't feel like a vision of clarity. It just sorta' happened: No one cared where he was as long as he was happy. But Ben wasn't happy. He knew how he could be though, and school wasn't it. Cicero wasn't it. 'Normal' wasn't it. 2,4 kids, a minivan, a nice middle-upper class home in Toledo and a golden retriever wasn't it either.
With slow movements he got up from the misted steps. With determined eyes he scouted down the street. And with quick, confident steps he headed back home to pack. He had made a promise to himself a year ago. A promise he hadn't been keeping. He had promised to live life to the fullest, seeing how short it really was. It was like that promise had withered amidst the trivial everyday things. But then suddenly awakened. Keo's death brought it all back.
No more. He was going to live – with or without his father there to guide him. Starting now....