Notes: So, I wrote this whole thing out, and then I realized that, as a scene, it was pretty much unnecessary. One of the perils of writing a serial story is that it has the tendency to get away from me: some parts become elongated while others are truncated, and the Boston storyline has definitely been drawn out beyond where I originally envisioned it. I just like having the two of them together so much…
Anyway, consider this part a deleted scene. If I ever put this whole thing together as a real book, this part probably wouldn’t make the final cut, as it doesn’t really propel the story forward. But fuck it, it was still fun to write.
Also, if you’re looking for something a little more substantial today, have I got the story for you! My Love Has No Boundaries story, You Get Full Credit For Being Alive, is available as of this morning on the Goodreads M/M group’s page! You can find it here. It’s over a hundred pages of I-Swear-I’m-A-Retired-Assassin Justin, the Cop-Who-Lived Shawn, Della the Dog and Margot, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Fucked-With. All of it free. Please go, read, leave a comment and tell me what you think. It isn’t available for download yet (I still have to get a cover made, Storm Moon Press is too busy to help me out this year) but will be soon. I was so pleased to get the prompt, and happy to offer up more free content to readers. Thanks for your support, guys.
Title: Love Letters
Deleted Scene: Trivia Night
The rest of his stay in Boston was mixed, as far as Ben was concerned. Now that Ryan was aware of how little Ben liked the crowds and the commotion, he went out of his way finding ways for them to avoid it, even when his roommates asked. That, in turn, made them uncomfortable, and so nobody got to be very happy for a while.
“Not even for Friday Night Trivia?” Lennie cajoled, her callused sculptor’s hands clasped together as though she was a little angel. “Come on, trivia at the bar is fun! How are we going to win if you aren’t there to help us?”
“We never win,” Ryan pointed out, but Ben could see he was weakening.
“Tonight could be the first time! Especially if Ben comes.” She turned to look at Ben. “It’s totally fine, we’ll get our own table and you can be as nonverbal as you want unless you know the answer to something.” The edge of her smile was just a bit hard; she and Ryan had had a discussion about Ben that had ended with Lennie feeling put upon, and she was letting him know that now in a cheerful, passive-aggressive way.
“Knock it off,” Ryan warned her. “Ben doesn’t have to do anything. But maybe I could come with you for a while…” His voice trailed off, clearly torn.
“I’ll go with you.” Ben felt a little guilty for waiting for so long to say it, but honestly, and it hurt him to think this, he was never going to be great friends with Lennie or Grant. She was too bright and loud, he was too taciturn and laissez-faire. Ben was warming up to Jasmine, and he thought the feeling was mutual, but it was too early to say whether or not they’d ever be more than acquaintances brought together by Ryan’s proximity. “Although I warn you, if it’s not history or literature I’m terrible at trivia.”
“Sometimes they ask history questions!” Lennie said with a grin, her moment of pique forgotten in the happiness of winning. “Come on, we need to go if we’re going to be there on time.” She turned and jumped on Grant’s back, wrapping her legs around his waist. “Onward, my trusty steed!” Grant rolled his eyes but obligingly cantered out the door.
“Thanks,” Ryan said softly, kissing the edge of Ben’s mouth. “I’ll go grab our jackets and the gear.” He disappeared into the bedroom and Jasmine came over to Ben’s side, shaking out her braids.
“Nice of you,” she commented.
“Despite what you might think, I’m actually not trying to be a bastard,” Ben said dryly.
“Yeah, I know. Lennie can be a little much even for me, and I’ve known her for years.” Jasmine slipped on a pair of heels that put her at Ben’s height just as Ryan came back out with their jackets. “Trivia night is a weekly ritual for us, it’s nice of you to play along.”
“Yes it is,” Ryan agreed, holding out Ben’s jacket and then taking his arm once he had it on. Ben had never thought he’d get used to someone taking his arm, as though he were a gentleman from Victorian England, but Ben did it without thinking. Jasmine grabbed onto his other arm, her hold identical, and the pair of them smiled twin smiles. It was a little intimidating, honestly.
“We can explain the other rituals on the way there,” Jasmine said as they walked down the stairs.
“What other rituals?”
Apparently there were a lot of them. The canvas bag of “gear,” for one thing. Regular teams at Cityside Bar’s trivia night all had names and themes, and Ryan’s team, being full of artists, was called the Artful Dodgers. As soon as they sat down, Ryan handed everyone a slender paintbrush, which they stuck behind their ears or in their hair. Ben let Ryan playfully tuck one behind his own ear, delivered with a kiss before he went after a set of colored pencils.
Among the other established teams was a group of engineers, mostly older men and women, who called themselves the Mighty Pocket Protectors, complete with actual pocket protectors on display. A band of science fiction lovers went by Team Trafalmadore, and each one of them had an eye drawn in the center of one of their hands. There were a group of young women in business suits who called themselves Team Binder Full of Women, and a group of young men were the Wet Dream Catchers. Those two teams in particular seemed to like annoying each other, shouting insults back and forth across the floor as the crusty old guy in charge of it all handed out answer sheets and pencils and yelled for people to “Put your fuckin’ phones away, goddammit, if I catch anyone on your team googlin’ the goddamn answer I’m gonna throw your whole fuckin’ team out!”
“Mark’s serious,” Lennie told them as she brought back a tray full of beers (there were perks to being a bartender at this place the rest of the time). “He banned the Protectors from trivia for a month when one of them tried to play off the Google Glasses he was betaing as bifocals. And the Vulcans still haven’t been let back in since Mark caught them hiding Bluetooth earpieces under their prosthetics.”
“Really.” Lennie launched into a story about how the Vulcans had been found out after they’d answered a question that really, none of them should have known. “I mean, Cossacks? They’re all, like, Communications majors, how would they know about marauding Russian cavalrymen?” Ben sat and listened and drank his beer, and wondered how soon it would be over.
Eventually the game began. The categories, as far as Ben could tell, were across-the-board random. They started with Americana, and had five minutes to answer five questions: what was the first state of the union, what was the last state to enter the union, what was the number of signatures on the Declaration of Independence, what was the nineteenth Constitutional amendment, and who was the fifth person in line to be president?
Everyone at the table looked hopefully at Ben. “You got this, right?” Grant asked.
“Uh…yeah.” Ben reached for the pencil and Ryan passed him an answer sheet. It had a green dragon drawn in the corner.
“I get itchy fingers,” Ryan explained with a smile. “So…answers?”
“Right.” Ben tapped the pencil to his lower lip, then wrote, Delaware, Hawaii, 56, women get the right to vote, the Secretary of State. He sat back and handed the paper around.
“Oh, seriously? I should have known the amendment one,” Jasmine muttered. “I did know number two, though.”
“I didn’t know any of these,” Lennie said happily. “This is awesome! We’re going to kill it tonight!”
It was nice to feel needed, Ben admitted. It wasn’t quite so nice for their table to be called out for “blatant cheating” as the answers were tallied, however.
“Lennie, what the fuck is your group playing at?” Mark yelled across the room. All eyes fell on them. “You’re artists, not historians!”
“Ryan’s boyfriend is on our team tonight, he’s a historian!” Lennie crowed triumphantly, pointing at Ben. He kind of wanted to sink into the booth.
“Historian, huh?” Mark squinted at Ben. “Professor?”
“I’m a writer, actually.”
“You write anything good?”
Ben shrugged a little. “Uh…Liberty or Death.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Really? DeWitt then, are you?” Ben nodded. “Great book. We’ve got ourselves a genuine celebrity here tonight, you fucks, let’s try not to scare him off.”
And now everyone was staring at their table. Lennie was laughing and Ryan was giggling and Grant looked as imperturbable as ever, and only Jasmine had the sense to push Ben’s beer a little closer and say, “Just ignore it, honey.”
The Artful Dodgers did better at trivia than they usually did that night. Not well enough to win: Boston was a town that knew its sports, and their group fell down on the exotic car logo round as well. Really, who had ever heard of a SEAT before? Who even knew that the Spanish made cars? But they cleaned up in pop culture references, literature (just the first lines of the books were given, and they had to name the title and the author) and, unsurprisingly, mixed drinks. Only the Pocket Protectors beat them in the end, and Team Binders Full of Women were close behind.
Better yet, it was actually fun. Ben had expected to bear it for Ryan’s sake, to be as gracious as he could while fervently wishing he was somewhere—anywhere—else. But once he got over being annoyed, once he let go a bit, he was surprised to find that he actually enjoyed it. The second place prize didn’t hurt either.
“Cityside shot glasses!” Lennie grabbed them from behind the bar and passed them around. “And they come with some complimentary Jameson, yummy.” They threw their drinks back simultaneously, and the liquor was smooth and warm as it slid down Ben’s throat. Ryan was snuggled up against his side, looking beyond pleased, and that coupled with the satisfaction of doing well was enough to wash away the last of Ben’s reserve.
“Let’s have another round,” Ben said to Lennie. “On me, if you’ll go get it.”
“Done!” Lennie announced, going back to grab the bottle.
“I like you when you’re drunk,” Grant observed.
“I like you all the time,” Ryan said softly in Ben’s ear.
“I like you when you buy me drinks,” Jasmine chimed in. Lennie came back and refilled the glasses, and Jasmine captured Ben’s eyes. “Cheers.”