She had said that to the sweet, gentle face that was staring ahead at least 100 times, but something occurred to her this time, things might not get better, just different.

Two minutes ago, he had held a soft, squishy stress balloon and she had warned him to be careful. It wasn’t a real stress ball, but a balloon filled with flour that her classmate had made. Oddly enough, with the random explosions, they were most likely causing more stress than they were to alleviate.

He squeezed it and teased the flour through his fingers. “What you need is another balloon,” he said. “If you put this balloon in another balloon then even if it popped, it wouldn’t go all over the place.”

Why couldn’t a room full of adults figure that one out?

She knew he was smart. His mind did that thing… When he was concentrating on something, he’d get real quiet and investigate it like it held secrets inside itself and was too afraid to share. Like he would have to gently coax them out with only the looks his face made as he ran each idea through the intricacies of his mind.

It wasn’t long before the balloon exploded. She laughed so hard at the young man covered in flour. He couldn’t help but laugh too, trying desperately to hold a white powder within his fingers.

She reached for a bag and opened it in front of him. “Try to get what you can in here,” she said.

He piled what he could inside the bag and went to gather it from the seat. “It’s all over my phone,” he said. “My phone’s a platter.” He laughed again as he used his phone to drop another pile into the plastic.

Little known to them, it wasn’t over. But they had a moment to have a bit of seriousness. He had been struggling with the new family dynamics and she offered the advice again. It will get better. 

“Dad and mom used to be really depressed,” she said. “You could probably tell in how we acted. Don’t we do so many more fun things now? It’s easier when your happier.”

“You weren’t ever mad,” he said. “And Dad isn’t any different.”

See, she was really good at faking it. That’s when it hit her. It might be better for her, but in their eyes? Or was it really the same as her niece described when her sister went mad and she needed to give her up. Now that she was gone, they had no buffer. They have to experience dad just how he is …and being a grumpy bear just plain sucks. For everyone.

She got away. And in getting away, she got all these wonderful perks. She doesn’t have to text anyone to tell them where she is. She doesn’t have to explain why she is gong to the gym at any random moment, or running for ice cream at 3am, or stopping to look at butterflies even though she should be focusing on the trail. No one can distrust her, control her, manipulate her. Not him, nor her sister.

 

He began talking again and as he threw his hands in the air for no huge reason, just simply because who doesn’t talk with their hands, a poof of flour rained over them both.

“I think I got flour in my mouth.” She could hear the silliness behind the words.

“I think I got it on me too,” she replied as her fingers rubbed the grittiness between them.

Laughter exploded out as she switched on the light to see that flour had covered them both, like drops of snow forever suspended in cold. “Dad’s gonna be mad that he has to wash this new coat already and my pants too,” he said.

“It’ll be okay,” she said just as she had a million times before for every mishap, lost item, or misdirected route. “Besides, you know how to wash clothes. Just throw them in the washer.”

“Nah, he can do it,” he replied. And if he’s strong enough to utter those words following the previous, he just might really be okay after all.

“Text your brother and tell him I’m gonna want a hug when I drop you off,” she said. “Warn him I’m covered in flour.”

With the two loves of her life (yes, he did have flour all over his face) embraced in her arms, laughing about the double explosion and the strange text, she knew that no matter what, her words would create their reality. It would get better. Different is better.

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