Cody gave his approval of his mother’s new boyfriend. “Before, you had no life,” he said. Diana had to agree with him.
Ben had shown himself to be a reliable guy, calling each night when he said he would. He had a job. He shared Diana’s political views and liked the outdoors. He was tall and beefy, unquestionably sexy.
When Diana first started dating Ben, he invited Cody to accompany them to the Christmas spectacular at Rockefeller Center. After the show, Ben picked an umbrella off the street and started dancing with it. Cody delighted in this gesture, walking rhythmically with Ben until Diana found a cab. The next month, Ben took Cody to a game at Yankee Stadium.
So, she figured that Cody and Ben would enjoy each other’s company if they spent the Thanksgiving weekend together. It had been over a year since the baseball game, but still.
“I don’t know,” Cody said.
He refused to go to his dad and stepmother’s. There was too much shouting in that house. So, he would have to stay with his mom.
“What would he even do here?” Ben asked. “There isn’t anyone his age.”
Still, Diana was proud of herself for orchestrating this holiday weekend. Cody and Ben would enjoy each other’s company at Ben’s Dutchess County house. She was sure of it.
Thanksgiving dinner was with Diana’s relatives. Although he was fifteen, Cody sat at the kids’ table. He enjoyed spending time with his cousins. The trouble started when Ben insisted on leaving early because of icy roads. Cody grudgingly put on his coat.
“He’s spoiled,” Ben whispered.
“He’s co-operating,” Diana replied. “He doesn’t have to like it.”
Once we were on the road, Ben and Cody started to argue about leaving early.
“Ben! Cody! Stop it!” Diana said.
“If it were my mother, she’d have smacked the daylights out of you,” Ben complained.
“My mother wouldn’t be that mean,” Cody countered.
“He’s a great kid,” Diana defended. “He’s also an honor student who works his tail off. He volunteers at a soup kitchen on Saturdays.”
Diana still pictured the two of them walking through the woods together and feeding the birds. She’d even been thinking that the three of them might even have a great life up here in the Hudson Valley since she hoped that that eventually, Ben would ask them to move in. It was lovelier than Manhattan, where they lived now. She thought of how an occasional train whistle punctuated the gentle twilight.
In the morning, Ben and Cody were busily eating granola at the kitchen table. Both had uncombed hair and wore sweats.
Diana offered Cody his medication. “No seizures in three years,” she said, “And I want to keep it that way.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Ben asked. “Make sure that there are no flashing lights around?
“I’m not photosensitive,” Cody insisted, taking the pills out of the box and picking up his orange juice.
“He’s not, but thanks,” Diana added.
Ben insisted on keeping the thermostat low. “Heat is expensive,” he said. Diana didn’t mind the chill when the two of them were alone. It was cozy lying next to him under the comforter.
Now he said this to Cody and Diana. As the two of them went up the stairs, Cody said, “It’s freezing! What’s he trying to do?”
“He means well, but we need to stay warm,” she said, following him up to the room where he was staying. Once there, she cranked up the thermostat: sixty-eight, then seventy-two.
“Look,” Cody said, sitting in a chair near the bed. “Let’s just call a cab and take the train home.”
“You used to like him when we went to the Christmas Spectacular, not to mention the baseball game.” Diana turned, folding her arms. “Maybe he’s having a bad day.”
“I just think we should go.”
“It’ll get better.”
The fight began abruptly. First, Ben and Cody were snarling at each other. Then Ben walked up to Cody and gave him a slow, no-contact kick in the butt. Even though his foot didn’t touch, the message was clear.
Cody smacked him. Ben hit him back and suddenly, they were going at it. Before long they were rolling around on the floor attacking each other.
Diana stood there in disbelief. What kind of man allowed himself to fight with a teenager?
By Saturday, Diana begun to see Ben through Cody’s eyes. Ben had a stern, archaic look when he read The New York Times after breakfast. The upstairs rooms were filled with furniture from the nineteen seventies that had belonged to Ben’s parents. His sister’s tattered books were piled on a shelf in the room where Cody was staying. “This place gives me the creeps,” he said.
It began to seem like Diana and Cody were in a haunted house with someone she didn’t want to recognize as the man she loved.
Each time Cody got her alone, he said, “Just call a cab. Let’s get the train.”
By nightfall, Diana asked Ben to drive them home. Up until the time they left, she still held out hope of redemption.
On the way home, she sat in the back with Cody while Ben sped down the Thruway. They were completely silent, even when they stopped at McDonald’s.
When Cody and Diana got home, they sat at the kitchen table eating apples. Diana couldn’t stop apologizing. She should have been more realistic, more responsive to what her son wanted to do. She should have been willing to consider not including Ben in their plans.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Cody said. “As long as it doesn’t happen again.”
“It won’t. I promise.” Diana threw out her apple core and covered his hand with hers.
Elizabeth Morse is a writer who lives in New York’s East Village. Her fiction has been published in literary magazines such as Scoundrel Time, The Raven’s Perch, and Bright Flash Literary Review. Her poetry chapbook “The Color Between the Hours,” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in late 2023. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her writing with a job in information technology.