Notes: Again, no accuracy with regards to MileHiCon, that happened in October, not February. But here it is, a new part, in which our hero toys with the idea of a nervous breakdown and our other hero can’t make microwave popcorn to save his life. Enjoy!
Title: Love Letters
Part Ten: It’s a Ben Complex, Not an Oedipal One
Halfway through February, Ben’s muse was still eluding him. He looked through book after book for inspiration, and found himself gravitating toward personal letters between friends, between husbands and wives and from parents to their children. Ben couldn’t do letters again, though. His last book had cited almost fifty of them, and as Linda kept emphasizing, he had to choose a topic different enough to appeal to readers already familiar with his style, while being similar enough to bring in new readers who had heard about him and wanted to get in on a good thing. This made very little sense to Ben, but then he had no real ability with marketing. All he was good at was research and writing, and even that was questionable these days.
It was eight in the evening on a Friday night when Ben set down the book he was reading and sighed. Not because Abigail Adams wasn’t a fascinating woman—in fact, her correspondence with her husband John was some of the most personally revealing and explicitly affectionate available from the time period—but because he was suddenly reminded of the fact that a woman who had lived and died over two centuries ago had had more of a life that he did now.
Ben stared tiredly at the wall in front of him, where a print of the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware had been hung by his grandfather over fifty years ago, and remembered for the first time in months how little he actually liked the painting. Not for its subject matter, but because it was one more artifact in a house full of artifacts that seemed designed to remind him of everything his future would be. Ben’s future, all of his professional aspirations, rested on the past. There was nothing contemporary about him; even his jackets were tweed with little patches at the elbows, and goddammit, he was only thirty-two!
A strange mood crept over Ben as he glanced from the painting back down to the book, where Abigail Adams’ stiff gaze looked out at nothing. The desire to pick up the heavy book and smash it into the painting, shattering the glass and ruining the print, came on hard, a violent and almost overpowering feeling. Ben rolled his chair away from his desk and clenched his hands together, averting his eyes from the first president standing so nobly at the prow of a boat.
It was no good, though. There were paintings everywhere, almost all of them revolutionary in tone with a few daring pieces here and there deigning to reach into the nineteenth century. His grandfather had everything from a portrait of Paul Revere to not one, not two, but three different depictions of the Declaration of Independence.
The prize of the art collection was an extremely valuable original portrait of Benjamin Franklin, painted by Gilbert Stuart, that rested in the environment-controlled, bulletproof display case in the library that also held some of their cache of Franklin’s letters. It had been priced at half a million dollars, not that anyone in the family had ever been inclined to sell it. When his great-grandparents had been penniless, their farming hopes wiped out during the dustbowl in Oklahoma, they had still kept that damn painting and carted it around with them to their new home in Denver. They had been faithful custodians of the past, which had survived all these years to now end up in Ben’s ungrateful hands. Ungrateful, because right now just thinking about that painting made Ben think that selling it would be the least of the evils that sprung to his mind.
Destroying everything, the rational part of Ben’s brain piped up, wasn’t a good option. There had to be another way to purge his sudden, vicious animosity towards everything historical. After a moment’s consideration, Ben got up, reached over his desk and almost threw his back out hauling the giant Washington print, in its unfathomably heavy oak frame, down from the wall. He carried it back to the library and leaned it glass-down against the wall behind his grandfather’s leather easy chair. Better.
Twelve more paintings and framed manuscripts joined it in the next fifteen minutes. When Ben was done the walls were completely bare, but at least he wasn’t looking at them like he wanted to take a claw hammer to them anymore. It was a little depressing though, to realize that without his grandfather’s collection up, there was literally nothing else to look at. Ben hadn’t put anything of his own on the walls; he didn’t even have anything to hang on the empty, forlorn hooks anymore. He had lived in this house for almost two years, and he’d never bothered to put any personal touches in beyond the contents of his closet and his computers. Even the dishes had belonged to his grandfather or mother, one more part of his heavy inheritance.
A text alert on his phone jolted Ben out of his depressing reverie. He picked it up and took a look. What r u doing tonight? J
Ben stared at the message for a long moment before bursting into slightly hysterical laughter. Ryan had to have some sort of sixth sense when it came to timing, because he was somehow always there lately when Ben was starting to feel like Jack Torrance from The Shining. He typed out, Contemplating whether or not to burn my house down and start over and sent it before he could talk himself out of it.
Ryan’s reply came back almost immediately. Sounds kind of drastic. Is it haunted?
Well, after a manner of speaking. Just feeling a little claustrophobic tonight, maybe. That was better than telling Ryan that he’d taken all the art off the walls and hidden them in a room he rarely went into.
U should go out. Get drinks with suit porn guy!
“Oh, not going to happen,” Ben scoffed under his breath. You just want him to send you pictures of me drunk.
Id settle for pics of u relaxed and happy.
Yeah, those would be nice. It had been a while since Ben had felt really, honestly happy though. Happy with life in general, not just when he was on the phone with Ryan. God, he couldn’t even remember the last time…maybe…possibly not since before his book was published. Publishing had been a lot less about happiness and a lot more about stress than he’d expected.
Then you should come and take some, he settled on at last.
I will soon. 2 weeks!!!
Ben smiled down at the phone. Ryan was the only person he corresponded with who could get away with excessive punctuation. Even Brody hadn’t been immune to Ben’s admonishments when he sent texts along like MY TEAM LOST N LAST FUCKING MINUTE OF THE FORTH QRTER JEZUS CHRIST!!!! The caps lock Ben had overlooked—that was just Brody, loud and in your face. The exclamation points had been a deliberate mockery, though.
Its going to be at the Hyatt, right? That was where MileHiCon had been last year.
No, the Sheraton. They only moved it a month ago, organizers have been busy as hell.
Oh, no. Oh hell no. Texting wasn’t fast enough for the kind of confirmation Ben suddenly needed. He called Ryan and waited breathlessly for him to pick up.
“I knew you had to hear the dulcet sounds of my voice,” Ryan teased as soon as he answered, and the tension that was building into a headache just behind Ben’s eyes eased without him even realizing it had been there before. All joking aside, it was really, really good to hear Ryan speak.
“Yes, it’s like listening to a choir of angels,” Ben replied. “Listen, do you mean the Sheraton downtown or the one close to the airport?”
“Um, downtown, I think.” There was a rusting of paper for a moment, then Ryan said, “Yeah, it’s the one downtown. Why?”
Ryan was going to love this. So was Michael. Shit. “Because suit porn guy is the events coordinator there.”
“Really?” Ryan sounded excited. “Cool, I’d love to meet one of your friends!”
“I think you two will get along really well.”
“Aww, don’t worry, we won’t leave you out, Ben,” Ryan cooed. Ben rolled his eyes. “Have you started thinking about your costume yet?”
“Whatever costume you want to wear for the con. You can’t just go to a science fiction and fantasy con and not dress up, Ben! This is, like, the only type of event other than Halloween where adults can cosplay without people looking at you like you’re a freak.” Ryan hummed thoughtfully. “You could pull of a classic Sherlock, I bet. Or maybe Dr. Who. Or you could go all out and do something against the grain, like, I don’t know, Hawkeye. You kind of look like that actor and I personally would love to see you in skintight black and purple holding a bow. I could be a gender-bended Black Widow! We’d look amazing together.”
Seriously, just picture her with less chest and less hips, I could make her Ryan:)
“Hawkeye and Black Widow…are they from the Avengers?”
There was silence for a moment. “You haven’t seen The Avengers? Really?”
“I don’t get out a lot,” Ben admitted.
“That’s because you’re working too hard,” Ryan said. “That’s what makes you think wicked thoughts about burning down houses. You need to relax.”
“I’m on a deadline.”
“I’m always on a deadline too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go out when I can.” Ryan sounded kind of serious now. “You’ve got to take the time to relax and let go of your work. I get some of my best ideas once I haven’t been staring at a drawing board for eight hours. Do you have an Amazon account?”
“Start downloading The Avengers. Seriously, right now, it’s an awesome movie. Once you’ve got it I’ll start it up over here and we can watch it at the same time. Do you have any liquor?”
Ben knew when he heard that sentence that this was going to be something he would regret. He also found that he didn’t care at all. “I’ve got some gin.”
“Cool, I’ve got a bottle of tequila around here somewhere. We’ll watch the movie together, and every time it makes you laugh, like for real, we do a shot. This is going to be so good for you, Ben.”
Ben opened up his computer and logged in to his account. “I’ll call you back once it’s downloaded.”
“Ooooor,” Ryan drawled, a little of the south coming back into his voice, “you can keep talking to me while I make popcorn.”
“I’ll just distract you and it’ll get burnt like last time.”
“Last time was a total fluke,” Ryan said. “I can handle it this time, I can.”
And really, Ben didn’t need to be talked out of spending more time with Ryan. “Okay.”
In the time it took the movie to download, Ryan burned not one but two bags of popcorn, at which point he gave up and switched to pretzels instead. He found his tequila, Ben grabbed his gin and when they were ready, Ryan counted down and the started the movie simultaneously.
“You see?” Ryan said a few minutes in. “You see what I mean? He totally looks like you.”
“My arms aren’t that nice.”
“Shut up, everything about you is nice.” They kept watching, and when Ben laughed during Natasha Romanov’s botched interrogation, Ryan said, “Shot!” They both did a shot.
By the time the movie was over, Ben couldn’t really remember the first half of it but he totally agreed with Ryan as to its awesomeness. And that guy had an awesome costume. It was just… “Awesome,” Ben told Ryan.
“I told you so,” Ryan replied, then giggled. “God, I’m so drunk.”
“So’m I.” Ben checked the time. “Wow, it’s midnight here. So it’s…” How many hours ahead was Boston again? Meh, didn’t matter. “Even later where you are. You should go to sleep.”
“I don’t want to stop talking to you,” Ryan said matter-of-factly.
“But you’re sleepy.” Ben knew he was, he’d heard the man yawning. “Sooo sleeeepy,” he sing-songed. “Put down the booze and go to sleeeeep. But drink a glass of water first.”
“Yes, Mom,” Ryan snarked. He immediately followed up with, “Oh, but no, I totally don’t think of you that way, that’s so gross, I so don’t want to sleep with my mother, just with you. I’m not Oedip…Oedib…edible? It’s not that but it sort of sounds like that, but anyway I’m not, so just don’t even listen to me.”
“Okay,” Ben said agreeably. He was tired…but he felt better than he had in days. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay? Sleep well.”
“You too,” Ryan said, sounding reluctant but exhausted. He hung up the phone, and Ben stared at his empty screen and thought hard for a moment. Something Ryan had just said…it was kind of important, made him feel good, it was on the tip of his brain…ugh, he couldn’t process thoughts right now. He needed sleep.
Because Ben might not have been drunk for a while but he did have a long memory when it came to hangovers, he made himself drink a glass of water, left another beside his bed along with some Tylenol, and pulled the wastebasket within easy reaching distance. Sleep came easily, for the first time in weeks, and was entirely dreamless.
When Ben woke up the next morning his mouth was foul and his brain ached a little, but not nearly as bad as it could have. He took the Tylenol anyway, forced himself to get up and shower, brush his teeth and make coffee and do his best to be a normally functioning human being. Halfway into his first cup, he got a text from Ryan.
It was Jasmines bottle of tequila. Shes so pissed. I owe her a new one soon as I can stand to go out in the sunshine.
“Oh no,” Ben said in quiet commiseration. Poor suffering creature of the night, he sent back to Ryan.
The next text read, Did I say anything embarrassing? :/
Only when you assured me I wasn’t your Jocasta.
***Oedipus: the focus of a famous Greek tragedy where the title character returned to the kingdom he'd been abandoned by as a baby, killed his father the king and married his mother Jocasta, the queen, all unawares. Later he gouged his own eyes out as a result. An Oedipal complex is where a boy subconsciously (or not so subconciously) wants to kill his father and marry his mother. Thanks for that, Freud!