A French Song in New York(7)

By: Anna Adams


That’s why when Ben found Grace sitting in the guest room on Maude’s former bed, shoulders slumped and her bleached, stringy, blonde hair falling over her face, he immediately sought to help what he saw as a new sister.

At sixteen, Benjamin’s heart was wide and the space for newcomers was endless.

“You hiding out here?” Ben asked from the doorway.

Grace raised her head, revealing a pallid, pudgy face. Her smile upon seeing Ben consisted mostly in her revealing her front teeth. The occurrence of a smile from Grace was as rare as seeing northern lights in an Islandic summer sky.

He took it as an encouragement and entered the room further.

“I’m avoiding . . .” Grace stopped, abashed. She played with a ring on her right hand. “I shouldn’t say who I’m avoiding. You probably like her.”

“Let me see if I can guess who you’re talking about? She’s tall, has a famous boyfriend, and sings classical as well as pop. She’s also our teacher.”

Grace clicked her tongue. “Maude’s your teacher, too?”

“She had to practice on someone. Several someones.”

“Was she any good?”

“I play the erhu, but I’m not much of a singer. Still, I can sing a whole lot better now.” He sat at the edge of the bed. “Maude made me practice through FaceTime while she was on tour.”

“She’s crazy.”

“She believes in you.”

“Do you think I should do it? Move in here with you guys?”

Expecting a positive response, Grace jerked her face up in surprise as soon as Ben said, “Don’t.”

“That’s encouraging.”

“I’m just warning you. If you move in here, you won’t ever get a late morning’s sleep. There’s always someone playing an instrument in this house. Or singing.”

“Seriously?”

The statement provoked only mock displeasure, no thundering outrage. Confident that reverse psychology had worked, Ben continued, “Plus, my dad cooks some mean pancakes, so you’ll get fat.”

“The food is good?”

“Look at my muffin top right here. Ain’t that proof?” He tapped his flat stomach with affection.

“There’s nothing there,” Grace laughed and pinched his stomach. “You’ve got zero fat, you lucky dog.”

Ben joined in with her laughter. “That’s because Mom makes us exercise. You’re a girl, so you’ll have to take self-defense classes. Mom’s rules.”

“I could live with that. If it means I get to kick your butt.”

“First, you’ll have to go on a gazillion shopping sprees with my sisters. Every time there’s a new sister here, that’s what they do.”

“I don’t know about that. A Heaton never takes charity.”

“Do you accept gifts? People are always getting gifts around here. Except for motorcycles. I never got that. Only a plain old bicycle.”

“Spoiled brat. What else you got?”

“One of the worst things from where I stand. You sure you wanna hear it?”

“Uh-huh.”

Ben leaned closer until his head was inches away from Grace’s face.

“Man, dunno if should tell you this. Might come back and bite me in the you-know-what. But since you insist. Okay. Truth is, this house is full of women. Us guys, me and Dad, we don’t matter. At all.”

Grace exploded into hearty laughter. “That is very sad. Tragic.”

“Finally, a girl who gets it!” Ben cried out. “It’s best you didn’t move in. It would be four women against two helpless men!”

“Two men? I’d say one man and a half.”

“Don’t make fun of my dad. Not his fault he looks small next to all of this.” He gestured to his torso, only succeeding in increasing Grace’s laughter.

“We got a break once Cynthia got married and moved out. But now! Another girl? Please don’t move in.”

“Not even if I promise to take your side from time to time?” Grace asked.

Ben’s eyes brightened with amusement.

“You say that now, but once you get used to always being right, you’ll never want it to change.”

“What if I promise to side with you on the most important things?”

“Like what?”

“Hmm, how about,” Grace patted her chin, “your absolute right to pee standing up!”

“What about leaving the lid up?”

“Never!”

“You see, you’re already one of them.”

Grace’s eyes twinkled.

“You sure it won’t be a hassle for your parents if I move in?”

“A new girl to force-feed. I think they’ll get over it.”