Page 18 of Coercion

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Nothing.There’s nothing to do but wait.Mia and Ben sit on a bench on the wall, his arms wrapped resolutely around her.Neither one has said anything in…how long has it been?Five minutes?Ten?

“Everything okay, guys?”I regret this question the second it’s out of my mouth.It’s obviously not okay.Their dad is in surgery and might die.Bristol’s behind a set of doors that nobody else was allowed to go through.It’s the exact scenario I was trying to avoid when I called the doctor to my place—the two of us, separated by a bunch of assholes in the scrubs.The twins, looking…like this.

Ben nods.And then, as if he’s not sure I bought it: “We’re okay.”

Mia stares off to the side.I don’t think she heard me.And something about her face makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.Her hands rest on Ben’s forearm, her grip as absent as her expression.

I don’t like it, but I’m not some rude motherfucker who’s going to watch her and demand more answers, like the social worker who bustles by for the third time since we got here.

“Mia.Ben.”She’s a redheaded woman with a warm smile that I don’t trust for a second.“How are you guys?Anything I can get for you?”

Ben smiles at her.“No, we’re okay.Thanks, though.”

I go and stand closer to the bench.Mia’s body has gone tense, even with Ben’s arms around her.It’s a clear sign to back off.

“Mia.”Another big smile from the social worker.Jesus, it’s genuine.Sogenuine, with crinkles around her eyes and everything, that it looks fake.“We didn’t get a chance to talk before.Did you feel like talking now?”

Mia turns her head and takes in the smile and the crinkled eyes.She does not smile back.“I don’t want to talk to you.Stop asking me.”

The memory of Emerson, that day after school, echoes her.Stop asking.

“Well, Mia…” This goddamn social worker.She reaches out her hand as if to put it on Mia’s arm, and Mia glances down at it like it’s a snake, or a rabid animal.The woman pulls her hand away.“I want to make sure you’re okay.Today was tough.”

“You weren’t there.”Mia’s tone is flat.End of discussion.

“No, but—”

“I don’t want to talk to you.”

I’m about to step in and tell her to find another part of the hospital.I don’t care anymore that she’ll probably ignore me because they’re not my kids.

Ben gets there first.

“We’re okay.”Ben’s obviously worried about his dad.Obviously still shaken up.Who the hell wouldn’t be in the middle of a hostage situation where you’re the hostage?He’s already talked to the social worker, in detail, about how glad he is to be back with Bristol, and how, yes, it was scary, but it’s over now, which is good, because he has a math test next week in school that he doesn’t want to miss.“We’ll tell Bristol if we think of anything else we wanted to talk about.”

“Sounds good.”She gives the twins two thumbs up.Ben gives her a smile that’s more of a cringe.Then, finally, she leaves.

I go back to the middle of the hallway and look through the thin sliver of window on the doors Bristol went through.No sign of her.

Evan comes down the hall and stands next to me, arms crossed over his chest.“You don’t think it’s going well?”

“He wasn’t even conscious when they got him in the ambulance.You saw the blood on the floor.”It was more blood than I was expecting.“I tried to keep the twins from seeing, but…” Mia was mostly hiding in Ben’s shirt, so maybe I was successful.“I don’t know how it’s going.I haven’t heard from Bristol.”

“Is that why you keep pacing around like it’s your own dad in there?”

I roll my eyes.“Better for everybody if itwasmy dad.”

“You’re a cold motherfucker.”

“He’sa cold motherfucker.That’s why he’s in prison.”The dread turns into something like acid, hot and uncomfortable.“I can live without my dad.That’s all I meant.”

Evan narrows his eyes at the surgery wing doors.“Aren’t those kids already living without their dad?”

He keeps his voice low.I keep mine lower.“Yeah, but if he dies, they’d be orphans.And then what?”

“Is that a serious question?”

“No.Jesus.Bristol would take care of them.”

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