Ben and the Watcher of Zargon

By Dianne Astle

Fantasy, Young adult

Paperback, eBook

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874
17 mins

CHAPTER ONE: THE RETURN

Above a secluded island off Canada’s west coast, a small plane circled overhead. The plane, piloted by Andrew Taylor, landed in the ocean and taxied to the dock. Summer holidays were over and Andrew was returning his son Ben to the private school that was the island’s sole occupant. Ben had spent the flight looking out the window in moody silence, but now he sat beside his father chewing on his bottom lip.
The son closely resembled his dark haired father in all but his eyes. Andrew’s eyes were blue, while Ben’s were a brilliant grass green. His eyes were the first thing people noticed about Ben. When they described him, they would say “the kid with the green eyes,” and everyone knew who they were talking about.
This was Ben’s second year at Fairhaven. He was going into grade ten. Ben was the third generation of Taylors to attend the school. Andrew had attended Fairhaven and so had Andrew’s mother Rosina, now deceased. Ben’s own mother had attended a similar school on a world that Ben hoped to visit very soon.
There were only three ways to the island the school was on. Some students came by boat. Others arrived by floatplane or helicopter. Still others came through hidden portals. They stepped through a door in their corner of the world and arrived at Fairhaven in almost no time at all.
The portals were just one of many things that made this school dif-ferent. Another difference was the principal. Miss Mariah Templeton had been the school’s principal for several hundred years. She was not only Fairhaven’s principal, but also Earth’s Watcher.
“We’re here,” Andrew Taylor stated the obvious as the plane bumped into the dock. He waited for Ben to jump out and secure the plane, but Ben did not move. “Come on Ben, summer’s over. It’s time to go back to school.”
Ben still did not move.
“What’s wrong Ben?” Andrew asked when he noticed his son chewing on his bottom lip with a worried look on his face.
“I’ve been having problems I haven’t told you about,” Ben said.
“What kind of problems?” Andrew looked over at his son in con-cern.
In answer, Ben pulled up his shirt to expose his back. Running along the length of his backbone was a line of blue-green scales.
“How long have they been there?”
“I noticed the first one at the beginning of the summer. One day it was there and the next it was gone. At first there were only one or two, but now there are always lots. Now they are never completely gone.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“At first I figured you had enough to worry about at work. Then you weren’t there because you had to go to Dubai and the North Sea to fight fires. Besides there wasn’t anything you could do.”
“We could have returned to Fairhaven!”
“Yeah, I guess, but I was having such a great time. Besides Uncle Ted needed me. The scales were easy to ignore when I was having so much fun.”
“Those scales shouldn’t be there. Your mother never had scales when she was in her human form. We need to show them to Miss Templeton and see what she says.”
Ben’s father reached over and pulled Ben’s shirt back down so that the scales were hidden.
“Your mother’s scales are the same color,” Ben’s father added wistfully. “I wish she was here on Earth with us. She would know what to do.”
Near the end of last term, Ben had been reunited with the mother he had last seen when he was three years old. Ben and his parents had spent their first weekend together as a family. After that weekend Zinder returned to her home world of Zargon, where no one knew she had a son. Over the summer, when Ben and his father were together, Ben heard many stories about Zinder and their forbidden love. It was against the rules for Chosen to get romantically involved with some-one from another world, but fate kept bringing them together and in the end, their love was stronger than their desire to keep the rules. So they were married on a world known as Mellish.
Ben noticed a sailboat arriving that belonged to the Sims family. He jumped out and quickly secured the plane to the dock so that he would be ready to help secure the sailboat when it arrived. On the boat was a pretty red-haired girl with warm blue eyes who was in Ben’s class. This was the girl who always made Ben’s heart beat a little faster.
Allison was the only other student in grade ten to know about the school’s true purpose. She was the only student that Ben could talk to about what it meant to be a Chosen; although, he hadn’t been able to tell her much about his time on Lushaka because Miss Templeton did not want him to tell people that he could transform into a dragon.
Allison threw Ben a rope and he secured it to the dock. She threw him a second rope and he secured that one too. Allison jumped onto the dock and put her arms around Ben to give him a hug. Ben loved the smell of mint in Allison’s hair and the feel of her body leaning into his; however, Ben stepped away quickly when he wondered whether Allison could feel the scales under his shirt.
A quizzical look flashed across Allison’s face.
“How was your summer, Ben?” Allison asked.
“It was great. I spent it on a ranch my dad’s uncle owns. I got to train horses and round up cattle.”
“Sounds like the perfect summer for you.”
“Uncle Ted even paid me. How great is that? How was your holi-day?”
“I spent July in Vancouver connecting with old friends and then in August my parents took holidays and we sailed from Vancouver up the coast and around Vancouver Island until we got here.”
Ben’s dad had removed the luggage from the plane and was wait-ing for him. Ben said goodbye to Allison and picked up one of his suitcases. Ben and his father each carried a suitcase to the boy’s dorm and dropped them off before heading to the stone building referred to as the castle.
“I wonder if Denzel is here yet?” Ben asked. “We want to share a room together again this year.” Ben and Denzel, an African American student from New York City, had not only been roommates the previ-ous year, but had also become the best of friends.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Dorm supervisors always prefer to put people who get along together in the same room.”
They went into the castle and climbed the stairs up to Mariah Templeton’s third floor office.
“Mrs. Topp, it is good to see you again,” Ben’s father said to the secretary who sat outside the principal’s office. “We would like to see Miss Templeton today if it is at all possible.”
“Miss Templeton is welcoming new students. She usually doesn’t see returning students at the beginning of a school year.”
“This is important,” Ben’s father said, “It can’t wait. I know Miss Templeton will want to see us.”
“All right,” said Mrs. Topp as she paged the Principal. “Miss Templeton, Andrew Taylor and Ben would like to see you. Andrew says it is very important.”
“Please ask them to wait. I will only be a few more minutes,” said the voice on the other end of the intercom.
Andrew greeted an old friend who was sitting with his daughter, a new student going into grade nine. Andrew took the seat closest to them and asked them how their summer was. Speaking about their summers was a safe topic of conversation. Grade nine students did not know that the true purpose of the school was to train the Chosen for the Guardian of the Six Worlds. The girl waiting to see the principal would not learn of the school’s true purpose until she went into Miss Templeton’s office sometime in grade ten and held the Principal’s special medallion in her hands.
There were two empty chairs on either side of a small boy with pale blue eyes and fine whitish blond hair that framed a face devoid of color. Sitting in front of one of the empty chairs were two large suitcases. Ben sat in the chair on the other side of the boy and his suitcases. Because of the boy’s small size, Ben assumed he was a younger brother of a new or returning student. The boy looked lost and afraid.
“Hi, my name is Ben. Do you have a brother or sister who is a student at Fairhaven?” The boy never looked up, but he shook his head no. His lip trembled and he bit it. A single tear slid down his cheek.
Ben was wondering what to do when a tall woman with bushy strawberry blond hair came out of Miss Templeton’s office and rushed up to his father. Ben’s dad stood when he saw the woman and he held out his hand, “Ma…”
The woman ignored the hand and threw her arms around Ben’s dad and did not let him go. “Andy! I couldn’t believe my ears. What good luck to run into you!”
“Maggie, it’s been years,” Ben’s father said as he freed himself from the woman’s embrace.
“I haven’t seen you since grade ten,” said the woman. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you again. I’ve thought about you many times over the years.”
“Yes…well…this is my son Ben. Ben this is Margaret McKee. She and I were in the same grade until she left school at the end of grade ten.”
Ben knew from his father’s words that Margaret McKee did not know the true purpose of the school.
“This is my son Willie,” said Margaret of the small pale boy Ben was sitting beside. “He’s just been accepted as a student here. When my wee Willie finished grade nine I knew this was the perfect school for him. Miss Templeton has just agreed to let him start grade ten here even though students usually start in grade nine.”
Ben looked at the small boy in surprise. He looked far too young to be entering grade ten. A large teardrop slid down his cheek, making him look even younger.
“My wee Willie will do well here. The teachers are of better quality than at his last school. And the students are far more respectful of one another. I think the teachers here will make something out of my little pipsqueak. Heaven knows I’ve tried, but…”
The small pale boy slouched down in his seat as his mother spoke and squeezed his eyes shut to try to keep the tears from flowing.
“This is your son?” Andrew interrupted. “And he’s going into grade ten. What a coincidence! My son Ben is also going into grade ten.”
Margaret McKee wiped the tears from her son’s face. “Oh don’t cry pumpkin. The term will go quickly. Before you know it, I’ll be back to take you home.”
“No, you won’t,” the boy whispered. "Mr. Decker doesn’t want me around. You won’t come back.”
A guilty look passed quickly over Margaret McKee’s face. Then she quickly said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m your mother. Of course, I’ll come back.”
His mother wiped another tear from Willie’s cheek and then quick-ly turned away from her crying son to talk to Ben’s father. “I so hoped you’d keep in touch after I had to leave.” she said reproachfully, “but I haven’t heard from you or from any of my old friends from when I was a student here at Fairhaven. Didn’t you get any of my letters?”
“Hmmm, I’m not much of a letter writer,” Ben’s father said.
The woman caressed Ben’s father with her eyes as she ran her hand slowly down his arm. Ben felt more scales pop up on his back and arms. He became aware of an uncomfortable burning in the pit of his stomach. He wanted to push this woman away from his father.
“Did Mrs. Taylor come with you?” Margaret McKee asked.
“No! She couldn’t make it this time.”
Ben was impressed with his dad’s smarts. His father had made it sound like his mother normally came with them, but chose to stay home this time, when in reality she was off on another world and rarely came to Earth except as a visitor. His father didn’t tell a lie, but the words he used would lead the woman to assume that Ben’s mother lived with them.
Willie’s mother brushed some lint gently off Andrew Taylor’s jacket. “I’m staying the night at the Bestshore Hotel in Lantzville. If you happen to pass by that way look me up. Then I’ll be in Vancouver at the downtown Sheridan for two days before flying back to Scot-land.”
“I have some business here at the school tomorrow and hope that Miss Templeton will put me up in the guest quarters. I’ll be going home right after that,” Andrew said firmly.
“There are guest quarters?” Margaret asked.
Ben’s father was visibly relieved when Miss Templeton came out of her office and cleared her throat, “Margaret, the boat leaves in twenty minutes. You need to be on it. In fact, I insist that you leave right now so you do not miss the boat.” There was no doubt in any-one’s mind that Miss Templeton would not be pleased to have Margaret McKee as an overnight quest.
“Say goodbye to your son now and be on your way.” Miss Temple-ton said as she gave the small boy’s mother one last penetrating look. “Andrew and Ben, please come in now.”
Ben and his father stepped into Miss Templeton office.
“I am so glad to see you both,” Miss Templeton said. “I wanted to speak to you about Ben’s return to school, but first of all tell me about your summer vacation.”
“It was good,” said Ben’s father. “We went to my uncle’s ranch in the Caribou near Williams Lake. Ben stayed all summer, but I came and went depending on whether they needed me at work.”
“Were there many fires on oil and gas fields this year?” Miss Templeton asked.
“Not as many as last year, but there were a couple of big ones this summer in Dubai that our company was hired to put out.”
“Did you transform over the summer?” Miss Templeton asked, looking at Ben.
“No…you didn’t want me to, and my mother said…” Ben paused. Miss Templeton was looking at him intently. “All right, I tried once ...but I couldn’t make the transformation.”
“I thought your mother made it clear it was dangerous for you to transform until you have more training,” Ben’s father said in exasperation.
“I was hoping the problems I’m having would clear up if I could transform.”
“What problems are those?” Mariah Templeton asked.
“There are scales…they used to come and go, but now some are permanent. I have more of them every week.”
“Where are they?” Miss Templeton asked. In response Ben turned around and pulled up his shirt so his back was visible. There was a line of scales going all the way up his backbone, with the occasional scale scattered in other places on Ben’s back.
“I see,” said Miss Templeton, “and you say there are more all the time?”
“Yes, and I have a bad feeling about them,” Ben said. “I feel like I must make a transformation soon.”
“I’m afraid you may be right. You may have some inborn need to transform. I have heard of some dragonborn having problems making the transformation. They end up as something that is neither human nor dragon. We need to send you to Zargon for training as soon as possible,” Miss Templeton said.
“Have you heard anything? Has Morton contacted you about Ben going to Zargon?” Ben’s father asked anxiously. “Zinder should have talked to Morton by now and made arrangements for Ben.”
“No, I haven’t heard a thing from Morton,” Miss Templeton replied.
“Zinder’s father will not be happy to learn that she has a son who is half human, but I can’t imagine Zinder letting that stop her from making arrangements for Ben to join her on Zargon when she knows how critical it is,” Ben’s father said.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve had no connection with the Zargonian Watcher for over six weeks now. It’s like Morton has dis-appeared again,” Mariah Templeton said. “I will keep trying. For now, Ben should not transform. He needs to be trained first. And Ben, please continue to keep the fact that you are half dragonborn a secret from everyone here at the school.”
“It may be hard to keep secret the fact that I’m part dragon if the scales start to show up on my face,” Ben said. Then he thought of Denzel and wondered how possible it would be to keep his problem a secret from his roommate.
“For now it is possible to keep them hidden. We will excuse you from taking any more swimming lessons,” Miss Templeton said.
Ben had to laugh. Last year when he was so terrified of being in deep water he would have loved a permanent excuse not to take the swim lessons everyone insisted he have. Now that he wanted to improve his swimming skills, he was not allowed to take the lessons.
Near the end of grade nine, Ben was sent to Miss Templeton’s office to talk about his fear of water. That visit ended with Ben being sent unexpectedly through a portal by the Guardian of the Six Worlds to a world full of water where he transformed into a dragon for the first time.
“While you are here,” Miss Templeton said. “Let’s give both of you a test to see if either of you are going off world within the next few months.”
Around Miss Templeton’s neck hung the medallion the Guardian had given her. She used the pendent to reveal when and where the Chosen would be sent. Earth’s Chosen were never sent to places on Earth, but they were sent through the portals to one of the other five worlds. Chosen from other worlds came to Earth when their presence was required. They came to protect the vulnerable, support earth’s peacemakers, and work with those who were actively seeking justice.
Miss Templeton took the medallion from around her neck and walked to where Ben’s father sat. He held out his hand and Miss Templeton laid the medallion on his open palm. The medallion opened up like a spring flower to the sun. It opened to reveal three circles: one for the days of the week, another for the months of the year, and a third for the years in a century. The arrows in all three cir-cles moved around and then stopped. The year arrow returned to where it had been, the day arrow pointed to sixteen and the month ar-row pointed to ten. Miss Templeton picked the medallion up, enclosed it in her hand and then placed it back down on Ben’s father’s open palm again. The three circles disappeared. In their place was a regular looking compass. The arrow moved around in a circle several times before pointing to the west.
“It looks like I will be going to Mellish on October sixteenth,” said Ben’s father.
“Your turn,” Miss Templeton said to Ben. She laid the medallion on Ben’s open hand and the arrows began to move. Everyone held their breath hoping the medallion would say that Ben would soon be going to Zargon; but the dials went around and around and never came to a stop.
“Well, it appears you are going somewhere, sometime, but there is no clarity yet as to when or where you are going. We will check again very soon,” Miss Templeton said, clearly worried. “I will keep trying to get through to Morton. I think it is important for you to go to Zar-gon as soon as we can arrange it. In the meantime, I have decided to give you a new roommate. In fact I think the McKee boy will do nice-ly.”
“I don’t want a new roommate. Denzel is my best friend. We want to be roommates again this year,” Ben objected.
“My point exactly,” Miss Templeton said. “You are good friends with Denzel, who is one of the most observant and curious boys I know. You share a room with Denzel and he will know you have a secret and find a way to discover it by this time tomorrow.”
“If not sooner!” Ben’s father said with a laugh.
“He already knows I have a secret. I managed to keep it from him last year,” Ben replied, not willing to give up the promise of sharing a room with his best friend.
“Yes…well…you did not have scales on your back then. If your behavior changes, and it will as you try to keep your secret, Denzel will give you no peace until he knows what it is you are trying to hide. The fool climbed up the outside wall of this building last year because he wanted to know what people were up to in the assembly hall when the bell rang. That boy is persistent. You need a new roommate be-cause I don’t want to make keeping your secret any harder than it needs to be.”
Ben said nothing. He didn’t want to admit it, but Denzel almost got his secret out of him before school ended last year.
Miss Templeton put the medallion back around her neck. “I cannot offer you any tea today, as I must get on with welcoming our new stu-dents.” There was regret in Miss Templeton’s voice.
Ben remembered the first time he had tea with Miss Templeton. She insisted he sit in her special chair that looked like it belonged in a throne room instead of a principal’s office. The chair was covered in Celtic knots and looked like it was made of pure gold. It was not the most comfortable chair, but Ben did as he was told and sat on it. Light came forth from the chair and wrapped itself around him. It flowed in and through him and when the light was gone he had two gifts that he took to Lushaka with him: The gift of octopus hands and feet, and the gift of invisibility. Both gifts were useful on Lusaka and disappeared the moment he returned to Earth.
“Ben, do me a favor,” Miss Templeton said as they walked to the door, “watch out for William McKee. Help him in whatever way you can. Let me know if there are any problems I should be aware of.”

CHAPTER TWO: THE NEW ROOMMATE

When Ben and his father came out of the office, William was sitting in the chair looking completely dejected. His lips quivered and an occa-sional large tear slid down his cheek. Ben felt sorry for the boy, but he was also angry to be saddled with the responsibility of looking after him.
“I’m going to see if I can find Denzel,” Ben mumbled.
“Not right now,” his father said. “You need to come with me so that we can show William where his room is.”
Ben scowled. Then he grabbed one of William’s suitcases.
“Willie,” Ben said, using the name William’s mother used, “it looks like you and I are going to be roommates this year.”
Ben spoke with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, but it sounded fake to everyone, including Ben.
“I’m sorry she made you take me,” William whispered.
Ben’s father looked at the boy with sympathy. “You don’t need to be sorry. Ben is happy to have you as his roommate. Aren’t you Ben?” Ben’s father gave him ‘the look.’
“Sure,” Ben said in a flat voice.
“This is a great school William. You’ll like it here. Ben does. Don’t you Ben?”
“Yeah, I like the school. I really loved sharing a room with my best friend last year,” Ben replied flatly.
Ben’s father gave him a stern look tinged with disappointment.
“A new school is a new beginning. And don’t worry, the term will pass quickly and you’ll go home for Christmas and see your mother,” Ben’s father said.
“No. I won’t ever go home. And I’ll never see my mother again.” William wiped tears out of his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.
“Yes, you will,” Ben’s father said. “It just feels that way.”
“No. It's…not… just …a feeling…I know...I always know,” the boy choked out through tears.
Ben’s father put his arms around William and gave him a brief hug. Then he picked up a suitcase and led the way to the boy’s dormitory.
When they got to the boy’s dorm, Ben’s dad went to speak with an old friend as the boy’s registered for their room. The dorm supervisor was handing out room numbers in the common room where they had left Ben’s suitcases. “Hi Ben,” he said. “I just got word from the office that you are to have a new roommate this year.”
“Yeah,” Ben said with a grimace. “This is Willie McKee.” There was as much enthusiasm in Ben’s voice as there would be if he talking about a sore tooth.
“It’s not usual for someone in grade ten to share a room with a grade nine student,” the dorm supervisor said.
“Willie’s going into grade ten,” Ben said.
“That’s a first. Every student I know of came here in grade nine,” the dorm supervisor said as he assigned Ben the same room he had shared the previous year with Denzel.
When they got to the room, Ben’s dad placed his hand on William’s shoulder.
“My son will be a good roommate. Ben will look after you, won’t you Ben.” His father gave Ben ‘the look’ again.
“Yes, of course, I’ll watch out for Willie,” Ben said with reluctance.
“Being at a new school can be a good thing. If there is anything you’d like to change, now is the time to do it. No one knows you here and you can have a new beginning,” Ben’s dad said softly.
The small boy wiped his eyes and his nose on the sleeve of his shirt. “No one knows me here. It’s a new beginning,” he whispered to himself.
When his father went back to the castle to visit old friends, Ben was left alone with William in the small room they would share for the next ten months. The room contained two beds, two dressers, and two study desks with chairs. On the wall there was a drawing of Ben in the swimming pool with a super-sized bathing suit floating on the water beside him. There was a clear look of distress on Ben’s face in the picture.
“Which bed do you want?” Ben asked of the small boy who sat in silence, his suitcases unopened where Ben and his father had put them.
William shrugged.
“If it doesn’t matter to you, I’ll take the bed closest to the window.”
William nodded without saying anything.
“So this will be my dresser, and you can have the one closest to your bed,” Ben said.
Ben started to unpack his suitcase into the dresser while William continued to sit in silence.
“Please don’t call me Willie,” the boy finally said.
“I’m sorry William.”
“Don’t call me that either. Your dad said I could change what I don’t like. I don’t like being called Wee Willie. As long as people know my name is William they might call me Willie. So I’m changing my name.”
“What name would you like?” Ben asked.
The boy hesitated for a moment, “Mack, you can call me Mack.”
When William said the name Mack, an image of one of the truck drivers Ben met over the summer came to mind. It seemed like the most unlikely of names for this small pale boy. Wee Willie seemed to fit him better, although Ben could understand why William would not like the name Willie, especially when people added the word wee, which was in truth a very natural connection. He was exceptionally small for his age.
“Okay. Mack it is then. Tomorrow when classes begin you can tell everyone your name is Mack.”
Mack unzipped his suitcase and started to take out his clothes, but dropped them when there was a single loud knock on the door. Denzel Carter burst through the door without waiting to be invited.
“What’s going on here? I thought we agreed to be roommates again this year!” Denzel said.
“It was all those stinky socks you left lying around,” Ben replied. “And I just couldn’t face another year of waking up to that face.”
“Right,” Denzel said. “I’m glad to see you too. Now tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m not sure. All I know is Miss Templeton wants me to share a room with Wi…Mack. Mack, this is my best friend Denzel Carter. Denzel meet Mack McKee.”
“I was counting on us being together again this year,” Denzel said, ignoring the small boy.
“Yeah, I know, but Miss Templeton decided to give me a new roommate for some strange reason.” Ben grimaced and rolled his eyes to let Denzel know that he wasn’t thrilled by the arrangement after making sure that Mack was not watching.
For the next half hour, Denzel talked about his summer in New York City and Ben shared what his summer in the Caribou had been like. The dinner bell ended their story telling.
“My mom wants me to eat with them tonight. They want to intro-duce me to the daughter of a friend. I’m not sure if I’ll get another chance to hang out with you until after my family leaves. You know how my mom is,” Denzel said as he walked over to the wall and re-moved the picture he’d drawn of Ben.
“This masterpiece comes with me. Hope you brought a bathing suit that fits this year Ben,” Denzel said laughing. Then he stopped on his way to the door and turned towards Mack.
“It was good to meet you, Mack, even if you are in my room. I hope you like it here at Fairhaven and that Ben’s stinky socks don’t get you down.”
After Denzel left, Ben led Mack to the dining hall that was located in the basement of the castle. Ben’s dad sat beside Phil Tanner, the Physical Education teacher. Ben’s father and Phil Tanner had become best friends when they were both students at Fairhaven. Denzel hadn’t arrived yet, but his parents were sitting at a table with another family that included a very attractive girl.
Ben looked for Allison at the table where she normally sat with the girls from their grade. She wasn’t with them. He scanned the room and discovered her sitting at a table with some grade eleven students. Allison was sitting next to Trevor Robson, a particularly handsome and popular grade eleven student, who excelled at everything. Allison was looking up at Trevor with admiration and laughing at something he was saying.
As Ben watched Allison and Trevor more scales popped up on his back and chest. For the first time he had some on his arms. Ben went to the water dispenser for a glass of cold water. It didn’t help take away the burning sensation in the pit of his stomach that rose up every time he looked over and saw Allison and Trevor together. The cold water became warm as he breathed on it.

Mack stuck to Ben like glue. Where Ben sat, he sat. When Ben got up for a second helping, Mack did too even though he had eaten little of the food already on his plate and took nothing more. Ben was very irritated with the boy when his father came over to speak with them.
“Ben, why don’t you take William on a tour of the school?”
“He’s now going by the name Mack,” Ben said.
“You said I could change what I don’t like,” Mack whispered.
“Mack it is,” Ben’s father said. “So Mack, Ben is going to take you on a tour of the school. Right, Ben!”
Ben rolled his eyes. He reluctantly got up and took Mack on the tour. They walked past the girl’s dorm. Ben looked up at the windows and wondered which room Allison was in this year. Then he took Mack past the small houses for teachers and staff who lived at the school full time. They walked past the building where Ben’s father and the other guests would stay. Ben showed Mack the physical edu-cation complex with its swimming pool and gym.
“Do you like swimming?” Ben asked, thinking of how embarrass-ing it was the previous year when he lost his bathing suit and almost drowned.
“It’s okay,” Mack said. “As long as you don’t lose your swim suit and come close to drowning.”
Ben stopped dead in his tracks and stared at his new roommate who had a shy smile on his face.
“Yeah, that can be really embarrassing,” Ben finally said.
They left the Physical Education complex and went past the gar-dens and the farm area where a good deal of the school’s food was grown. Ben made a point of stopping by the stable and paddock where the school’s horses were kept. Ben had a special treat in his pocket for his favorite horse, Dusty. When they got to the stable Mack refused to go in. Ben stayed in the stable for several minutes. He expected Mack to be gone when he came out, but the boy was still waiting for him.
“Who’s Mr. Decker?” Ben asked as they walked towards the cas-tle.
“He’s my mother’s newest boyfriend.”
“Your mother has a boyfriend?” Ben said with surprise, wondering why Mack’s mother would hit on his father if she had a boyfriend.
“Yeah. Mr. Decker’s rich. He wants to marry my mom, but he said he didn’t want to be saddled with a strange kid. So mom brought me here.” Tears welled up in Mack’s eyes and slid down his cheeks.
“That is brutal,” Ben said, with real sympathy in his voice.
They walked slowly back to the dining hall to give Mack’s eyes a chance to dry. When they arrived Ben introduced Mack to several people. Mack kept his head down when introductions were made, alt-hough he did say a quiet ‘Hello.’ The only one who got a shy glance from the boy was Allison Sims. Perhaps he was intrigued at who it was that made Ben stammer.
When the bell rang to announce a general assembly, Ben took Mack up the stairs to the great-hall across from Miss Templeton’s office. Every school year started out with Miss Templeton reminding students and teachers of the values the school held dear.
Later that night, when the lights were out, Ben heard quiet sobs coming from the bed next to his.
“Are you okay?” Ben asked.
There were a few small sniffs after that, but no more sobs.
“Don’t worry. Trevor won’t be Allison’s boyfriend by Christmas time this year,” Mack said.
“How do you know that?” Ben asked.
“I just do.”



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