Notes: *Head thunks down onto desk* So…after an extremely busy weekend (read: hosting someone who invited themselves over for a visit, huzzah) I’m finally on track again. I’ve got so much writing to do it isn’t even funny, but I’ll handle it. And hey, I always make time for Love Letters. We’re almost to the con, people!
Title: Love Letters
Part Eleven: A Memory Barely Better Than A Lie
Ben actually did manage to do some work in those final two weeks before Ryan came out for the con, and while it wasn’t work that necessarily made him jump up and down for joy, it was work that he was suited for and that made Linda very, very happy. Ben wrote the foreword for the 50th anniversary edition of his grandfather’s book. An Educated American was a ridiculously successful biography, and had sold more copies than any other book in the same genre except for one about John F. Kennedy.
Because the book itself was a personal look into the life of Benjamin Franklin, not just about his myriad political and scientific achievements but also about his family, his hobbies and his philandering, Ben though it was fitting to write a more personal foreword about his grandfather. Various editions of the book had already expressed Benjamin Bache’s education (at the University of Pennsylvania, where anyone with their family’s pedigree could get in), his family life (married to Ben’s Grandma Joelle for thirty years, before she died of cancer, and after that never married again) and his personal interests (Revolutionary-era art, Revolutionary-era original documents, pretty much Revolutionary-era everything). What Ben was supposed to provide now was the truly personal touch that only a family member could.
That was where things started to fall down. No one in Ben’s immediate family had been much for “personal touches” in any sense of the word. His grandfather had been so absorbed in history, so positively steeped in a world that had long since been laid to rest, that it was almost impossible to draw him out of his studies, memories and contemplations of the past long enough to remember to eat and sleep. He had been an invisible presence in Ben’s life, not an active grandfather, despite the fact that he and his mother had shared this house with the man for years. Ben might see him sometimes in the morning getting a cup of tea, and they usually ate a rather silent dinner together in the evenings, but that was it.
It was no wonder his mother hadn’t turned out better at expressing her affections, Ben thought morosely as he stared down at the blinking cursor on his computer. Ben had been lucky to get a pat on the shoulder from her as a child, never mind an actual hug or kiss. He thought for a moment about the open physical affection that DeeDee had displayed back in North Carolina, and wondered how it would have been to grow up with a mother who had wanted to touch him.
Ben snorted derisively. He’d seen the effect of that family’s child-rearing, and it didn’t escape his notice that both Brody and Ryan had done their best to get away from their parents as soon as possible. Circumstance had brought Brody back but from what Ben saw Ryan had pretty much severed all ties, and it would take another funeral to get him back to Concord. The grass really was always greener on the other side.
Fine, then. If that pithy phrase was true, then there had to be something Ben could say about his grandfather that would appeal to readers. Something personal and heartwarming that maybe Ben had forgotten or overlooked. Ben stared around the living room for inspiration but none struck, probably because all of decorations that had been there before were still stowed in his grandfather’s library. He sighed, got to his feet, and walked a little heavily down the hall to the library’s door.
Ben hadn’t gone into the library since his deconstructive rampage, and he really didn’t want to go back in either, but the strongest memories he had of his grandfather were associated with this room. Something would spring up. Otherwise he’d just make something up.
The library was the largest room in the house, with a very high ceiling but only one window, whose drapes were always drawn to prevent the sun from damaging the books and documents. The air smelled of leather and dust and, very faintly, of pipe tobacco. It was funny; Ben’s grandfather had never smoked in here, another precaution against damaging anything, but he’d stowed the pipe in a drawer of his desk when he wasn’t using it. The smell had faded from the rest of the house, but in here, where there was very little air movement and Ben hadn’t bothered to clean in those entire two years, the smell still lingered.
Pipe smoke, pipe smoke…Ben shut his eyes and focused on the scent, urging it to spur a memory, any memory, that he might use. He could see his grandfather, see the tweed jackets and faded brown corduroy pants, the full white beard and neatly combed head of hair. He could see the stained teeth and the thick, ropy veins running across the back of the man’s hands as he gesticulated or turned a page. Hands…Ben hadn’t liked those hands on him, they had always been batting his own hands away from things while his grandfather shouted, “Don’t touch!”
That was the memory that stuck the most, those knobby knuckles rapping on the back of his hand while the man yelled, “Don’t touch, don’t touch, don’t touch!” Not exactly the thing Ben wanted to write about in a foreword. He opened his eyes and stared despondently around the room, looking for anything else that might inspire him, anything else that might save him from committing a literary lie. In the corner furthest from the window, on a specially-made desk with an incorporated display case, sat The Letters. Benjamin Franklin’s personal letters. Not the ones to his family, but the ones detailing his more outstanding scientific achievements, shared amongst friends. Two leather-bound notebooks lay within as well, filled with notes on his work.
Ben walked over to the display and laid his hand on the glass, smudging it but not caring. He followed the spine of the top notebook with his finger, and remembered doing the same thing as a child. That notebook he actually had been allowed to touch, very briefly as his grandfather readied it for a professional restoration. It had been sitting on the desk on a piece of parchment paper, and while his grandfather was out of the room Ben had reached out and run his finger very gently over the leather binding. It hadn’t felt like much, cool and a little dry.
When he’d looked up again his grandfather was standing in the door, not angry, not saying anything at all. Ben had jumped away from the desk and tucked his hands behind his back, not wanting them to be smacked for touching, but his grandfather had just come to his side and knelt down next to him, and they had stared at the notebook together for a moment. “It’s history, Benjamin,” his grandfather had said softly. “It’s our history. It’s important to preserve it like the treasure it is. Don’t touch it again without gloves on, all right?”
“Good boy.” Except Ben had never touched it again at all, he’d never gotten the chance to. After the restoration the documents were locked up and never removed, despite requests from numerous universities in Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore. His grandfather had just…refused.
Ben wiped a hand down his face. He remembered some of those arguments, various librarians and historians coming here and getting into shouting matches with his grandfather, a few even trying to sue him for withholding the letters from a wider consumption. It hadn’t been pretty.
Well. At least Ben had one decent memory to write about. Now to couch it in ways that diminished the assholishness of its origin.
It took a week to get the foreword down and another week to get it ready for Linda, who read it in fifteen minutes and called him immediately, filled with raptures. “Benjamin! This is loooovely! What a sweet moment between the two of you, I’m sure you learned so much from your grandfather! This was such a good idea, I’m just about to throw my own shoulder out trying to pat myself on the back.”
“Oh don’t do that,” Ben said absently, flipping through the second volume of Janie and the Phantom. Janie was trying to reach the end of a maze, where the Phantom promised her she’d find a magical item that would help her on the rest of her journey. The trick was surviving to the end; the maze was filled with monsters, and each time Janie confronted one she had to find a new way to fight it. The battles were all based on classical examples: she beat a sphinx by answering a riddle, a gorgon with its own reflection, and an enormous spider by betting it its silk wasn’t strong enough to hold it, and tricking it into tying itself up.
“-enjamin. Benjamin! Are you even paying attention to me?”
“What? Yes!” A little guiltily, Ben put down the graphic novel. “What did you just say?”
Linda sighed. “I was asking if you’d come up with a new topic for your next book yet. Any luck?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Please don’t start,” he told her. “I’ll have it, all right? At the beginning of April.”
“The first of April, Ben, that’s as far as I could push it.”
“The first of April, then.”
“Good. Lovely!” And just like that, Linda’s mood was back on track. “I’ll make sure everything goes through with the publishers for the foreword, and it’s just wonderful, Benjamin, really.”
“Thank you.” She hung up and Ben took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then glanced at the clock. It was the last Friday of the month, and Ryan was flying in today. Ben had offered to pick him up, but apparently the hotel had already supplied a shuttle and Ryan felt bad cancelling it, so Ben was going to meet him at the con instead. Along with Michael, who was so delighted by the prospect of sticking his nose into Ben’s business that he’d actually been calling Ben once a day, just to fuck with him.
“It’s fate, darling,” he’d said yesterday. “Fate that I meet your lovely lad. I have to vet him, after all, make sure enough he’s good for you.”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Ben said.
“No, you’re right. Rather, I should vet you after meeting him to make sure you deserve such an adorable young thing.”
“You are not my relationship counselor,” Ben told him with a groan. “You’re not my anything. Your opinion is immaterial.”
“I’m your friend,” Michael reminded him gently. “And friends help each other. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spike your wheel, but I do want to meet the boy in order to evaluate the possibility of this all going pear-shaped and leaving you with yet another hole in your poor, battered heart.”
“If things go wrong, it’ll be my fault, not his,” Ben said honestly. “You know how I am.” “Challenging” was the way Michael had described Ben at the end of their intimate relationship. “Rather too much of a challenge for me right now, darling.” And Ben knew it was true, he knew he was a hard person to get to know, but that was the beauty of what he had with Ryan. Ryan already knew Ben; he knew more about Ben than Ben could remember about himself, thanks to the letters. And for reasons Ben still wasn’t entirely sure of, Ryan seemed to really, really like Ben.
“Hmm,” was all Michael would say. “So, are you dressing up for the con, darling?”
“Ryan’s bringing a costume for me.”
“Let me guess…Sherlock Holmes?”
“No,” Ben laughed. “Although he was thinking about it. No, I’m going as Hawkeye.”
“Ooh, very nice! You do have rather the same cast to your features, don’t you?” Michael hummed contemplatively. “I happen to have a long leather jacket and an eye patch left over from a brief foray into piracy, I think I’d make a smashing Nick Fury.”
“Positively smashing,” Ben agreed.
“Oi! Don’t insult me with your terrible attempt at being British, mate, it makes you sound like even more of a poor hapless American. Right, then. Hawkeye for you, Fury for me…what’s your man coming dressed as?”
Michael laughed. “Oh darling, we’ll have to confine the pair of you to the hotel to keep from causing accidents in the street. This will be a very exciting weekend.”
“Yeah,” Ben said, smiling wide in anticipation. “It will be.”