Chapter 6.11 – Smoke

Ben spends weeks at the hospital, quickly learing that cooperation is the key to avoid being given his “medicine”.
 
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Faith and Jimmy come to visit him almost every day, and often leave in tears when they learn that his “problem” has not improved. He’s not sure what the doctors are saying to make them think so. Ben has not said a word to anybody about “end of the world” stuff, and he has done his best to steer clear of the topic with his new doctors. He has seen Dr. Kennedy around the hospital, but she has avoided him since the night Maria was found his room.
 
He struggles with his newfound knowledge concerning Dr. Kennedy’s relationship with Maria, and he begins to fret over the possible reasons why his former doctor would have hidden the fact from him. Hearing Maria’s mother freak out on the phone that day at the estate, had left him with terrible feelings of worthlessness. Knowing now that it was actually Doctor Kennedy, reopens that old wound. What’s worse, is that Ben had actually mentioned the incident during his therapy sessions. In his mind, it is nothing short of betrayal.
 
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He would gladly prefer the daily ridicule he used to suffer at school, over the painfully long and boring days at the hospital. He is only allowed to see Maria during the doctor-supervised tutoring sessions. There are three other kids who also attend the tutoring, all with varying degrees of mental dysfunction. Despite these hurdles, however, He and Maria have still managed to grow close. He can tell when her meds have been throttled back, because her personality fights to emerge. It is during these times, when the doctors aren’t looking, that her eyes meet his and seem to be begging him for help.
 
As time goes on, he learns that Maria is amazingly resourceful and fearless when it comes bending the rules. She has somehow managed to obtain a keycard, and moves freely throughout the hospital. Sometimes she comes to visit him at night. Usually, they just sit together, but sometimes she wants him to hold her. She tells him it helps her feel safe. He can sense she would not object to something more intimate, but Ben is not nearly as fearless as she is. Then there are the times when she talks about “ending it”.  It has made him reconsider that perhaps her boldness his not so much a lack of fear, as much as it is having nothing more to lose.
 
The weeks eventually turn to months, while he spends the vast majority of his time singing songs, playing the guitar, and waiting for the day when he will be able to go home.
 
 
Faith paces the foyer, periodically looking through the window for signs of the car carrying her mother and brothers. They had finally given up looking for Doc after his disappearance several years ago. When Mei died, Hope did not attend the funeral for fear of missing some important lead on Doc’s whereabouts. Giving up on Doc could not have been easy, and reaching out to her estranged daughter was probably just as difficult. But in the end, Hope could no longer maintain her grudge against Mark’s decision turn control of the estate over to Faith.
 
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When the car finally pulls up, Hope has just barely stood upright before Faith launches into the kind of hug she used to give when she was a child. She is reminded of waiting up late nights, long ago, for Hope to return home from work. The tears flow as she apologizes for anything and everything she might have done to cause the rift to be prolonged. A girl needs her mother, and she should have worked harder to reconcile a long time ago. Hope likewise begs forgiveness for throwing away so many precious years.

Mary (left), Faith (center), and Hope (right) Barimen

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Dara (left) and Richard Nava (center), and Sarah Barimen (right)

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Joseph (left), Sarah (center), and Thomas (right) Barimen

The following reunion is both joyful and sad, as the extended family gathers to share stories about the past and the present. The evening belongs to Aunt Mary, who tells stories about growing up in the Barimen household among older brothers and sisters. Her fondest memories are of Ciara, her mother, who died when she was still a young child.
 
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After the guests have left, Hope and Faith sit in the cellar, talking and drinking  vintage life-fruit nectar. It is just the way it used to be. Only now, the girl talk involves subjects never approached when Faith was younger. It is very late at night, at the tail end of a long conversation about Kacey, when Faith finally mentions Ben and his problem. She feels that the hospital might be taking advantage of the situation, and soaking the family for as much money as they can get.
 
Before getting up and going to bed in the guest room, Hope wonders out loud whether Ben has any problem at all; then adds that she can’t wait to meet him.
 
 
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The smell of smoke in an adjacent room wakes Ben out of another disturbing dream. It is late at night, but he can see the black whisps already clinging to the ceiling of his little “cell”. He leaps out of bed and tries his door — locked, as usual. If there is one thing that is absolutely certain in his mind, it is that there is no chance he is going to die in this hole. With all of the force he can muster, he smashes the door with his shoulder, and then kicks it until the frame splinters. After spilling into the hallway, he examines the doors lining the hall and finds the one with smoke billowing out of the top. It is Maria’s room.
 
The door is slightly open and he makes his way inside to find Maria standing, staring at the fire she has set on her bed. He immediately notices the fire alarm, which has been pulled off the wall, and now hangs by a wire. Hoping for the best, Ben twists the wires together and snaps the cover back onto the wall. The alarm obediently begins to screech. Ben rushes into the room and quickly guides Maria, who has started coughing from the heat and smoke, into the hallway.
 
By now, the entire mental hospital has come alive with chaos and panic. They stand there together, amid the overwhelmed nurses and terrified mental patients, as the fire grows and spreads. Then, just as Ben prepares to take Maria to safety, she brushes her lips against his ear and verbalizes a thought that had already crossed his mind, but seemed too crazy to attempt.
 
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Dismissing all caution, Ben grabs Maria’s hand and makes a break for the front doors. They pass fire crews with hoses and extinguishers and slip unnoticed past the growing number of emergency vehicles. Blending into the crowd that has gathered on the street, Ben and Maria walk swiftly away from the burning building, both of them fully expecting to be caught at any moment. He stops momentarily when he sees Dr. Kennedy emerge from her car, screaming and running toward the hospital.
 
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Without looking back, Maria pulls him along onto a side street; where they disappear together into the shadows provided by the darkness of night.
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3 thoughts on “Chapter 6.11 – Smoke

  1. Wonderful chapter. So strange to think Hope has never met jer grandson, but perhaps she can spread some light on his situation. And how strange they remember Doc — I figured his existence, at least in this realm, had never happened. Oh well — my brains not very sci-fiey! 😉 I can’t wait to see what happens with our friends next. Though I must say I was relieved to see Dr. Kennedy running to the hospital screaming. Though she was likely upset her institution was burning down, I’d like to think she was worried about her daughter.

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  2. I hope Ben goes home, although it seems unlikely he would if Maria thinks it unwise. I cannot imagine how devastated his mother would be if she found out he was missing after a fire.

    Wonderful chapter, I hope Doc finds his way back!

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  3. Im so happy that Hope remember Doc, that he is being searched for as well as he is trying to find them. Its such a topsy turvy story! Im trying to figure out how he could be where he is and them where they are…I have an idea or thought, but I dont want to ruin it for anyone else thinking different things. ;}

    Im happy that Ben and Maria escaped that place, but Im sad wondering if he will be able to go home back…

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