By Shadows59 and Eric “Erico” Lawson
Prologue: The Kids Stay Together
By Eric “Erico” Lawson
June 20th, 1992 C.E.
Sandra and Natalie Tennyson didn’t always see eye to eye about things, especially when it came to worrying about their children. They had been fortunate enough to fall in love with the Tennyson brothers, and unfortunate enough to get to know and form a bond with their future mother-in-law before Verdona died in the fire that burned down her house. For a time, grief and the mutual panic about their pregnancies and the loathing both women had for their own families had kept them united. And Ben and Gwen had been such wonderful babies, and being able to rely on each other early on had been a godsend.
But then Frank had started earning more money, and the two families had bought houses on opposite sides of town. What had once been constant visits slowly dwindled, because it just got harder and harder to listen to Lili as the kids got older. It was like she’d forgotten all the promises they made to each other. That she’d forgotten everything she hated about her mother, who reminded Sandra too much of her own mother, and started emulating them.
Really, if it wasn’t for Ben and Gwen…
But here she was, sitting in Lili’s kitchen and drinking coffee while her darling Ben was upstairs playing with his cousin. Who had chicken pox. Admittedly, it was a solid idea that she agreed with; getting chicken pox now before school started was preferable. And the kids loved playing together. Always had. Although...they were noticing now. They’d both stopped at the bottom of the stairs, holding hands, and had stared at them, at their mothers, waiting for her and Lili to start fighting and cut the visit short.
That had been thirty minutes ago and she still couldn’t shake the look she’d seen on her son’s face. Gwen had worn one just like it. Sandra figured even Lili had seen it...she’d been quieter than usual. Or maybe she was reading too much into it, and Lili just figured that silence was better than speaking, which inevitably led to an argument.
And the kids knew it.
“School will be starting soon.” Lili mused softly, refilling her cup. She held up the pot expectantly, and Sandra nudged her cup and saucer over for her to refill it also. “We’ll be enrolling Gwendolyn into kindergarten this year. Have you thought about sending Ben to kindergarten also?”
“I’m still not convinced it’s a good idea to have them in a year early.” Sandra confessed. She wrapped her hands around the coffee cup and let the heat leech into her palms. “They’re only four and a half. Other kids going into kindergarten are six. Maybe five.”
“They’re smart, Sandy.” Lili insisted. “You should see them with the flash cards and the games. I knew Gwen could handle them, and Ben keeps up with her every step of the way.”
“But, DeMornay’s book says…” Sandra started, and froze when she saw Lili start to scowl. She shook her head. “No, forget that.” And Lili calmed down, just a hair. “I want Ben to succeed, Lili. I want that as much as you do. But I want him to be happy doing it.”
“And you think…” Lili started again with a growl, but stopped herself. She closed her eyes and counted silently. Sandra did the same.
Maybe in another time, another place, she wouldn’t have seen anything that would make her worry. Maybe if she’d been less observant, Sandra would have completely missed how the kids just stood there and waited for the fight to happen.
But this was not that time or place, and she had seen them waiting to be pulled apart. So she took in a breath, worked up her courage…
Do it for them.
“Why are we always fighting, Lili?” Sandra asked sadly. She opened her eyes and looked over to that woman , expecting indignation.
She saw surprise instead. Sandra didn’t wait for it to disappear. “Did you see how Ben and Gwen looked at us before you told them to go upstairs and play?”
Lili might have tried to say something, but she settled for a rough nod, and looked down at the table.
“They were expecting us to start fighting. Not more than a minute after we’d gotten here, and…” Sandra’s voice broke. “The last time at our house? You remember what happened?”
“The lights went crazy, didn’t they?”
“No...well, yes. I guess it would be the time before that. You and I got into another argument, and you went upstairs to take Gwen home?”
Lili flinched a bit. “They were in his closet.”
“Covering each other’s ears.” Sandra remembered sadly.
They both took a long sip of coffee after that, drinking little but making it last.
“I wonder what Verdona would think of us.” Lili said, after their cups came back down again. Sandra had to laugh at the notion.
“She’d probably smack us both and then sit us down until we made up.” She confessed.
Lili chuckled and ran a fingertip around the rim of her coffee cup. “She would. But we’d get cookies out of it.”
“...She made the best sugar cookies.” Sandra sighed. “Always said the secret ingredient was love.” She met Lili’s eyes again. “She would have loved Gwen and Ben.”
“She would have spoiled them rotten.” Lili complained, and the two laughed a little at that before sobering up. For Sandra, the pain was still too fresh. They’d visited her grave only two weeks ago with Max. And her father-in-law still…
He still couldn’t…
“Okay. Let’s table it for now.” Lili conceded. “We won’t talk any more about school today.” Sandra nodded, and realized just how much tension that let out of the kitchen. “So what do you want to talk about?”
Sandra thought about it for a while. “Want to go check on the kids?”
“We could, I suppose...but they might not react well.”
“If we went up by ourselves, like usual?” Sandra suggested, and tried not to wince at how the usual sounded. Still, it gave her an idea. “But what about if we brought them something?”
“Like another game to play?”
“Something better.” Sandra set her cup back down and scooted away from the table, offering her sister-in-law a tentative, shy smile. “Do you have the fixings to make sugar cookies?”
They hadn’t done any baking together in years, not since Verdona had passed away. Sandra considered it a wild, mad hope, she figured Lili would refuse, or say that it would ruin the kid’s dinner. Or that she would refuse out of hand.
But things had bent enough for the unusual to not be so unpalatable. Lili smiled back, stood up, and smoothed out her skirt.
“I think I do, actually.”
An hour later, the kitchen was full of the smell of fresh cookies made with love. Both mothers made their way upstairs with a plate of cookies between them, and changed the paradigm. Ben and Gwen had two cookies each, but insisted on splitting each one, which made Lili laugh and wonder when Gwen had gotten so good at sharing.
It wasn’t until the end of the visit, when Sandra was in the car with Ben and half a mile out that she realized that she and Lili had averted the usual arguments. And that Lili had hugged her when they’d said their goodbyes. She hugged almost as well as Gwen hugged Ben.
“Did you have fun, sweetie?” Sandra asked Ben, who still grinned like a maniac in his car seat in the back. Gwen always made him smile.
“Uh huh! Can we have cookies when she comes over?”
“If you’re a good boy, Ben, we’ll see.”
“I am good! Gwen says so!” He chirped back.
“Oh, well, if Gwen says so.” Sandra laughed.
June 29th, 1992 C.E.
Sandra walked into Ben’s room with a sippy cup of cold fruit punch; mixed herself, with a little less powder than the recipe called for. “Ben, honey? Are you okay?” She asked carefully.
Her precious little boy grumbled and curled into his blankets even tighter. “It’s so itchy.” He groaned, though he wasn’t able to go after them. Not with piano gloves on his hands, and taped up so he couldn’t take them off. She’d put enough bandages on his arms yesterday.
“I know, honey. It’s no fun at all.” Sandra comforted him, rubbing his back a little bit. “Are you thirsty? I’ve got some fruit punch here.” He grunted once and came up for air with a sour look on his face, but he took the cup and drank as much as he could. “Go slowly.” She coached him. “There’s more if you want it.”
“Want Gwen.” Ben said, handing the mostly empty cup back to her. “She knows what to do.”
Sandra sighed again. That was his solution for almost everything. ‘Want Gwen.’ And if he thought she was supposed to be around, he’d say ‘Where’s Gwen?’ She brushed his hair back and smiled when he squirmed away from her hand. “I know you do, sweetie, but…”
And she hesitated. Really, it wasn’t like Gwen could get the chicken pox again . But…
So Sandra smiled. “I can’t make any promises. But I’ll call your Aunt Lili and see if she’d let Gwen come over. Okay?”
Regardless of how miserable Ben was feeling with his face, arms, and chest covered in tiny red spots, that not-quite-a-promise made him brighten up and smile like he hadn’t in days. “Kay.” He said, and burrowed back into bed.
“And you won’t try picking at them?” She asked.
“Pwomise.” Ben grunted, with only a little bit of a face. Sandra left the cup beside his bed for him and went downstairs to make a phone call. She only hesitated for about twenty seconds before she punched the second number on the speed dial.
To her surprise, Gwen answered the phone, and after sounding very phone-mature for her age, brightened up after she realized who was calling. She must have stayed close after Lili took the phone from her, because as soon as Sandra asked if Gwen could come over to help Ben feel better, the little girl squealed excitedly and immediately started rattling off please-please-pleases like she was a typewriter. Lili sounded incredibly frustrated, but with Sandra listening in and biting her cheek to keep from laughing, she eventually agreed to a visit in the afternoon if Gwen was a good girl the rest of the morning and helped her with chores.
Sandra almost went back up to tell Ben the good news, but stopped halfway up the steps. He needed sleep right now, and if she told him Gwen was coming, there would be no chance of that happening.
He still asked when she woke him up for lunch, though. And when she told him that Gwen probably was coming by in the afternoon, he grinned again, then turned serious.
“She gets cookies.” He said, less a request and more an order. “You pwomised.”
Sandra blinked at that, tried to recall the conversation, and laughed when she did. “Yes. Yes, I did. Okay. But you have to stay up here still, okay? Until she gets here, and then maybe if you’re feeling better, you can come down and play with her for a while. Otherwise, she can visit you here in your room.”
“Kay.” He nodded his head exactly once, as if considering the matter settled.
“So. Sugar cookies? Or chocolate chip? Or oatmeal raisin?”
“Choc’wit chip!” Ben insisted. She laughed again and headed downstairs to get started.
She’d just gotten the pan into the oven when the doorbell rang, and when she went to answer it, a sudden thud from upstairs made her pause. Then the steady thumping of Ben’s tiny feet along the hallway made her chuckle, and she went to the door to answer it.
“Don’t run down the steps, Ben! I don’t want you falling!” She called up towards him, then opened the door and beamed at Lili and Gwen, waiting on the other side.
“Hi, Sandra.” Lili said, smirking just a little. She arched her eyes over Sandra’s shoulder. “Up and around, I take it?”
Sandra had to chuckle. “Soon as the doorbell went off. I think he…”
“Gwen!” Ben rasped, his face covered in red spots. And then Gwen’s eyes went shock wide.
“You too?!” She almost yelled, and squirmed out of her mother’s hand, making a beeline straight for him.
And Lili just raised an eyebrow, for once not bothering to correct Gwen to not yell, or to not run, or to not do any of the half dozen things she’d done and was still doing in the last five seconds. Sandra shrugged, but her smile felt a little more genuine.
“I just put some cookies in. Coffee or tea?”
“I wouldn’t mind some tea.” Lili conceded, and they made their way back to the kitchen as their children started squawking at each other, with Gwen fussing over Ben every step of the way. “Honestly, it’s like she’s a different girl the moment she sees him.”
Sandra paused with her hand around a box of black tea bags, and felt the question form in her mind. And what’s wrong with that?
But she held her tongue, another rare concession. “I have decaf and regular black tea.”
“Oh, either is fine.” Lili reassured her. The red-haired woman sat down at the table and angled her chair so she could look out into the living room, where the kids were now sitting down on the carpet, while Ben pulled his sleeves back so Gwen could make faces at all the spots on his arms, and the marks of anti-itch lotion Sandra had tried to cover them with. “How’s he been doing?”
“Same as Gwen, I think. Kept trying to scratch at them all, and he gets tired easily. Not much of a fever, though. Thank goodness.”
Lili hummed and nodded. “I’ll be glad when they’re both over it. Gwen’s lost the spots, but she’s still on the mend herself.” Sandra set a teakettle on the stove to boil and then checked the oven again, then set a timer for the cookies inside. “Still, it’s better that they’re dealing with it now, and not this fall when they’re in school.”
Sandra got out a couple of coffee mugs from the glass cabinet and put a teabag in each of them, and waited for Lili’s next question.
“Have you been thinking about what school to send him to?” Lili asked.
“The one in our district is Drake Elementary.” Sandra said calmly, sitting down on the other side of the kitchen table. “It would be good, keeping him close to home. And you’re sending Gwen to that private school, right?”
“Angelwood.” Lili said with a nod. “It’s not exactly around the corner from our house, but it’s a good school. She’ll have a lot of opportunities there.” The woman drummed her fingers on the table. “You could send Ben there too, you know.”
“We could.” Sandra tried to keep a civil tongue in her head. “But he’s smart enough that he could succeed anywhere. And Drake’s got a good reputation as well. Besides, I’m not sure he’d be happy at Angelwood. I read that brochure you left, and...uniforms? Really?” She shivered, and thought of the parochial schools that her parents had insisted on sending her and her brothers and sisters to. She thought of her brother Eric, who’d been forced to go through conversion therapy, and… “I can’t stand the thought that they’d try to make my Ben into someone he isn’t. That they’ll do it to Gwen.” She added in a weak voice, and shivered again.
She half-expected Lili to fly off the handle again, like she always did. But the other woman didn’t. She looked like she wanted to, when Sandra looked up at her, but she held off and shook her head.
“Private doesn’t mean parochial.” Lili reminded her gently. “I was going to take Gwen there next week, to give her a chance to see the place. You could come along.”
“I don’t know.” Sandra wavered.
“If it’s a matter of money…” Lili hesitatingly started, but cut herself off when Sandra glared at her.
“My son is not a charity case.” Sandra growled.
“I...I didn’t mean that to sound the way it did.” Lili backpedaled.
The teakettle whistled, and Sandra bit off her next retort, going to kill the heat and pour them each a cup. She brought the mugs back over and set them down, leaving her tea to steep.
Lili used a spoon to stir her bag through the steaming water. Sandra used the silence to breathe in and out, then froze.
She couldn’t hear the kids out in the living room. She stood back up and went to go and check on them, but…
They came into the kitchen, hand in hand. Looking sad.
“Mommy, we hafta go now?” Gwen asked, looking down at the floor and squeezing Ben’s hand all the harder.
“No, sweetie.” Sandra said, instantly denying the possibility before Lili could get a word in. Seeing Gwen look that miserable was just wrong.
“You were yelling.” Ben mumbled.
“We were talking, Benjamin.” Lili said carefully. “Not yelling.”
“Not happy talking.” He replied. And Lili flinched.
“We were talking about schools.” Sandra explained.
“Gwen’s going to kindergarten this fall.” Lili went on, maybe, hopefully, just as eager as Sandra was to keep the kids from being sad, again. “A school called Angelwood.”
“And your daddy and I thought, Ben, that you could go to kindergarten also.” Sandra added. “There’s a school close by to here. Drake. You’ve seen it a couple of times when we go driving around. What do you think?”
Sandra almost flinched as soon as she said it, because one of the parenting books she read was insistent that you never ask your child what they want. You tell them what they’re going to get. Of course, there was that other book which said to give them a choice , so they feel like they have ownership in their lives, but you’re retaining control.
Lili waited while Ben scrunched up his face in his rarely used ‘thinking look’ and then turned his head to look at Gwen. The little red-haired girl looked back at him, and Sandra could see her squeeze his gloved hand even tighter.
“Kindergarden.” Ben finally said. “Okay. I go with Gwen.” And Gwen grinned at him, and Ben grinned back.
Sandra wondered who’d pulled the rug out from under her. “Uh, Ben, that’s...you see, she’s going to a different school than…”
“Nuh uh!” Ben hollered, instantly angry. Gwen mirrored his rage, stepping ahead of him.
“Together!” She snapped. “Want Ben!”
Panicking and wondering where her exhausted son found the energy to get so mad, Sandra looked over to Lili for moral support, and found the other woman looking just as surprised as she felt.
Laughing together after that was the easiest thing to do. The kids relaxed a little when they did, but they still didn’t walk off, and stayed in the doorway, holding each others’ hand. Because this was important.
Sandra walked over to them and knelt down so she could meet their eyes. “Ben, are you sure?” She asked. “You haven’t seen her school. If you went there, you’d have an outfit you’d have to wear every day. You couldn’t wear your favorite shirt all the time.”
That did make him squint up a bit, but only for a second. And then he was back to looking stubborn and deadset.
“Gwen’s there.” He insisted. “I go to her school.”
Sandra’s lip quivered as she looked at her boy, and for an instant, saw a glimpse of the man he might grow up to be. Then she wiped at her eyes, and it was gone.
“Okay, Ben. Okay.” She surrendered. “You can go to Gwen’s school.” And the both of them cheered at that, scampering back off with Gwen chattering about how good it was going to be.
Sandra sat back down at the table, and Lili shook her head. “I honestly didn’t see that coming.” The red-haired woman said.
“Neither did I.” Sandra admitted. And then the worries set in. She’d given her word that her son could go to Gwen’s school. But how would they be able to get him in? The few times she’d bothered to pay attention to Lili nattering away, she’d mentioned tests to even be admitted, and there was the tuition, and her worries about the uniform, and…
Lili reached across the table and grasped her hand. “He’ll get in.” She promised Sandra, her eyes glimmering. “All those flashcards he insisted on doing with Gwen? He’ll pass with flying colors.” And then she squeezed her hand, like Gwen had squeezed Ben’s only seconds before. “We’ll do whatever we can to help, if you want help. But there are also scholarships. We’ll make it work, Sandra.”
“I hope I’m doing the right thing.” Sandra whispered.
“Look at it this way.” Lili said, pulling her hand back and chuckling. “It’ll be a brand new school for the both of them. School is always scary when it’s new. At least they’ll have each other as something familiar.”
“I suppose they will.” Sandra said. And then the oven timer finally went off, and when the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafted through the house, Ben and Gwen came barreling back in, eager for a snack. They got cookies and fruit juice while Lili and Sandra had cookies and tea, and it ended up being one of the most civil afternoons they’d spent together in years. She was still nervous about a lot of things, and wondered how Carl would take the news that they would have to start setting money aside for private tuition, but there was one thing Sandra felt sure about. She wasn’t worried about Ben being lonely anymore.
The kids would be staying together.
Everyone knows that Ben and Gwen could barely stand each other by the time they went on their big summer trip when they were ten, but what no one knows is that they were nearly inseparable for their first four and a half years.
In the Little Moments universe proper, something happened that set their next six years, but in this world there is a glance taken, a look seen and a word reconsidered and that makes all the difference.
This story started as an au while Erico and I were dealing with other worlds. It was just an idea of how cute it would be to see them growing up together, from their first day of kindergarten on. This is just the beginning of the cute.
This story will only be updated when we have a need for something cute and light hearted, but this Ben and Gwen have their own story to tell. We hope that you enjoy it.