Jam, Jen, Jeb, Jan, man, Nim, Jim. Oh, and Ben, of course…
“What’re you doing?” His friend, Misty, was leaning over his paper.
“Anagrams,” Ben said. Seeing her blank look, he explained, “Rearranging words to form others.”
Misty smiled. “Trust you to know the name of something as useless as that.”
The words “it’s not useless” were on the tip of his tongue, but he held them back. Those three simple words would start a long, playful debate with her, and really, he didn’t feel much like talking. It was only on a rare occasion that he ever did.
Ben thought that Misty seemed to have said her piece. She was staring out of the window, watching the world flicker by.
He returned to the notebook on his lap, wondering, what else?
Before he could come up with a single word (or a single letter, for that matter), he found that he had misjudged. Misty was chattering again, this time at a more rapid rate than before.
Ben sighed inwardly. He couldn’t tell her to shut up without hurting her feelings, but the notebook on his lap looked pretty inviting. He snapped it shut, resisting the temptation, and tried to be a good friend by listening to the endless stream of meaningless conversation.
Misty talked about everything: the destination of the field trip that they were currently on, what she was doing over the weekend, how much of an angel her boyfriend, Andy, was (Ben found that odd since he distinctly remembered Andy being sent to the juvenile detention center for shoplifting), and about the lunar eclipse that was predicted for the following week. The last was the only thing Ben was really interested in, but he did his best to listen attentively to all of it, even the part about Andy.
Just as Ben began to think that Misty would collapse if she didn’t pause to take a breath, a teacher’s call for attention rang throughout the school bus.
She went through all of the rules-- be on your best behavior, respect and listen to your chaperones, and DON’T wander away from your assigned groups.
Then, the teacher began reading the list of assigned groups. Ben didn’t listen this time. He already had his group memorized. Neither of his best friends, Oliver and Misty, were in it, which was a blessing and a curse all at once. For one, they couldn’t chew his ear off throughout the entire trip, but, for another, he wouldn’t have his friends to joke around with if things got boring.
Although, considering that the trip was to a museum, Ben thought that they probably wouldn’t.
Slowly, the other students rose and filed out of the bus. Ben picked up his notebook and jammed his pen into his pocket before joining the line.
The line shuffled reluctantly along, urged on by the teacher. Most of the eighth grade clearly wasn’t thrilled to be going, although they probably found it better than school.
Ben, on the other hand, wanted to waste no time in getting there. When the line of people stopped every so often, he would shift restlessly from one foot to the other.
“I’ve never seen someone get so excited about a museum,” came Misty’s voice from behind him. “Nerd,” she teased.
“And you’ve never gotten excited over something like this?”
“Never.” Ben glanced over his shoulder and saw that Misty was fighting to keep a straight face. They were obviously both thinking of the time in the not-so-distant past when Misty had freaked out over being invited to compete in a prestigious international math competition.
He grinned as her face burst into a smile. “You’re such a terrible liar,” he remarked.
Her smile widened. “I know.”
The line of students was moving steadily now. Ben figured that they didn’t have much longer to go.
Finally, Ben stepped off the bus and into the crisp November air. He found his group’s chaperone and waited as the rest of them assembled there.
Then they walked across the parking lot to the museum.
Compared to the crisp autumn day outside, the museum was dank and musty. Everything in it was old; some of the staff members might have been fossils in their own right.
Ben was fascinated by everything inside the museum walls. He wanted to read every single word of every single inscription, but he was dragged along by his less-than-interested group members.
As they emerged from an exhibit on ancient humans that Ben had found particularly interesting, a sign caught his eye. Its black background and white lettering looked far newer than the rest of the museum. It read:
Music Across the Ages: A Display of Ancient Instruments
Open to the public from 10/26 - 11/18. Included with general admission ticket.
Ben’s heart skipped a beat. Were they going in there? While he liked science, art, and history, music was what he really loved.
He was lagging behind, so he hurried to catch up with his chaperone, who was his classmate Ellie’s dad.
“Can we go in there?” he asked.
“It depends on whether the rest of the group wants to go, too,” Ellie’s dad replied diplomatically.
The rest of the group members were already shaking their heads. Ben heard comments like, “I don’t want to see any more old stuff than I have to,” and “I just want to get out of here as soon as possible.”
That had been exactly what he had expected, but Ben couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He cast one last wistful glance at the open doorway and then returned to studying the various artifacts with more vigor than was probably necessary.
Ben was reading about the pottery of ancient civilizations when he heard a clamor coming from up ahead. He reluctantly turned to see what was going on.
Apparently, his group had crossed paths with other students from the school. Even from where he stood, Ben could hear their noisy chattering.
His group moved forward. Even though reading everything meant that he would always lag behind, Ben didn’t want to completely lose sight of them. He sighed and walked a little closer to them before stopping at another display that caught his eye.
“D’you get left behind, too?” The voice came from his left.
Ben turned and faced the voice’s owner. It was a boy with dark brown hair and a mischievous glimmer in his equally brown eyes. Ben recognized him as a student from his school.
“It’s Ben, right?” the boy asked.
Ben nodded. His memory didn’t usually fail him, but he was drawing a complete blank as far as the boy’s name went. That was a bit embarrassing, considering that they had worked on a science project together not too long ago.
“I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I can’t remember your name.”
The boy smiled. “That’s alright. You don’t have to be sorry. I’m Owen. Just don’t forget this time,” he added, a teasing note in his voice.
Ben returned the smile. Owen had taken that very well.
He was unable to think of anything else to say, so he turned back to what he had been examining.
But Owen seemed to be adamant about starting a conversation. “Any exhibit caught your eye?”
Silence. Owen was clearly waiting for him to elaborate.
“Well…” Ben thought for a moment. “We didn’t actually go in, but I wish we could have seen the Music across the Ages exhibit.”
“Let’s go, then.”
“Listen, I’m looking for an excuse to get away from my noisy group, too.” Ben found this a bit ironic; Owen wasn’t exactly quiet. “And you want to go. We can just sneak off and go take a look at it. Nobody’ll notice. They’ll just assume that we’re still behind them.”
It wasn’t a careful or even slightly clever plan, but the truth was, Ben was searching for an excuse to escape his group, too. Their complaining could probably be heard from across the museum. And if it also meant that he could see the exhibit that had been on his mind all day, Ben certainly didn’t have any objections to this ill-formed and probably ill-fated plan.
That was exactly why Ben found himself following Owen back down the hallway they had just come from.
Slipping away from the group had been, as Owen had predicted, extremely easy. It was going back that was the problem.
The exhibit had been a lot of fun. As it turned out, Owen knew as much as Ben about music.
But on their return, they had run into a wall of sorts.
They stood in the room where they had split from the group. It was empty.
Ben had just come to a very important realization: They had no idea where the rest of the group had gone.
“They couldn’t have gone far,” Owen said, sounding about as convinced of that as Ben felt.
“The museum has three floors,” Ben replied nervously. “There’s a million places that they could’ve gone.”
Owen nodded. “But we’ll find them.” A note of stubborn confidence leaked into his voice.
Ben wasn’t so sure. “Look, I think there’s a desk for lost children on the first floor—”
“I am not a helpless child,” Owen spat.
“You don’t look eighteen to me.”
Ben didn’t have a problem with that. His own mind was devoid of any other even slightly useful ideas. He silently challenged Owen to come up with a better idea, one that would get them back safely with the group and keep them out of trouble.
Owen didn’t. “Let’s search every inch of this place until we find them.”
Another remarkably stupid idea.
It’d just be better to go down to that desk, Ben thought, but I can’t leave Owen to wander around on his own.
So they began to wander through the musty museum.
Two and a half hours and two very sore pairs of feet later, there was still no sign of the group.
“Come on, it would be better to go downstairs. Let’s go,” Ben begged. The plea had no meaning at this point; he knew what the answer would be. He had said it with a nearly mechanical precision every five minutes for the past two and a half hours. If his math served him, this would be the fiftieth time that he tried to persuade Owen.
“No, I’m sure we’ll find them,” came the equally familiar reply.
Ben had realized early on that there was no persuading Owen, but he was desperate enough to try. He knew that the bus left in an hour. What if they didn’t make it back in time?
They hurried past an assortment of relics from the medieval period. If it had been under other circumstances, Ben would have very much liked to stop and examine them. Why couldn’t he have stayed where he belonged?
They had come to a split in the hallway.
“Which way?” Owen asked.
Ben shrugged and started to mutter “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” under his breath.
Owen glared at him. “Oh, cut it out!”
Ben ignored him. “Right it is,” he said, having finished with his little rhyme.
“You know, I think you’d fit right in with all of the small, lost children at the desk.” Owen remarked as they trudged down the hall.
The hall split again. Owen jerked to the left before Ben could start again.
Ben heard the soft thud and the “oof!” of Owen walking right into something. Or, as it turned out, someone.
It was a large woman with a blue uniform and a glistening white security badge. Her arms were folded, and she was studying Owen as Ben came around the corner.
“Enjoying your time here?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Owen answered.
She glanced around. “Where are your parents?”
Ben scrambled for an answer. Something vague like “over there” would lead to the inevitable question of “over where?” On the other hand, claiming the random middle-aged couple that was walking by as their parents would cause a very awkward situation indeed.
So he gave no answer, and neither did Owen.
Needless to say, Owen ended up at the dreaded lost children center.
A furious teacher escorted the two boys onto the bus.
Judging by the sea of faces that they saw as they entered, the bus had been loaded for some time.
The teacher probably realized we were missing and came looking for us, Ben thought, only to find us at the lost and found.
In any case, it was uncomfortable. Everyone stared at them—some looked annoyed, some were covering smiles, and some were openly laughing.
After the teacher dismissed them with an “I’ll speak to you when we return,” Ben and Owen slunk to the only free seats, which happened to be at the back of the bus.
“Well, that was quite the adventure.” Owen said after they had settled into their seats.
“Mmm…” Ben flicked through his notebook, trying to distract himself from the thought of the punishment that waited for him back at the school.
Apparently, the same thing was on Owen’s mind. “I can’t wait to see which speech they give us when we get back,” he commented sarcastically.
It turned out to be the what-got-into-you-this-will-be-a-blemish-on-your-perfect-academic-record speech. The teacher recited every teacher-like line there was and then some.
In the end, it resulted in an in-school suspension and detention for the next month.
Ben sighed. That’s what I get for being an idiot. Was the exhibit really worth it?
That was a very good and very important question.
Detention. Blank walls, bored faces. Ben was one of them.
He needed a way to pass the time. His thoughts had only kept him occupied for a short time; he still had forty-five minutes to go.
Then he remembered the pen in his pocket. He gingerly slid it out, careful to make sure that the teacher didn’t see it. He slowly rolled up the sleeve of his shirt and hid his arm under the desk.
He began to write, watching three words form on his skin—we’re in trouble. He quickly came up with two more.
Ben and Owen.
Anagrams from Detention