Notes: The trip continues and things get a little more complicated, because if stuff were perfect all the time we’d get bored, right? I want to keep from making any of my main characters into Mary Sues, so expect a little conflict every now and then. This is contemporary fiction, after all, it’s supposed to mirror real life. I hope you all liked the Jasmine POV, and I’ll probably throw another one in there at some point. Because yes.
Title: Love Letters
Part Twenty-A: A Change in Scenery
They went to the Cityside Bar that night, where both Lennie and Grant took shifts bartending to supplement their artists’ incomes. It was a sports bar and the Red Sox were playing at home, which meant the place was packed to the rafters with people, all of them staring fixedly at the TVs in between shouting at each other over the inoffensive, mostly uninteresting music. It was…loud. Loud was definitely the word for it. Ben didn’t do wonderfully in crowds, he never had; he’d only gotten through Michael’s fundraiser and Ryan’s con because of the opportunity to sequester himself away from the crowds at times. And now he was in a city he didn’t know, surrounded by people he didn’t know, trying to shake hands with a pretty brunette across the bar, who Ryan had indicated was Lennie.
“So nice to meet you!” she shouted. “I’ve heard so much about you!”
“Nice to meet you too,” Ben replied.
“Nice to meet you!” he shouted back.
“Right! Want a drink?”
“Oh god yes.”
She cupped a hand around her ear. “What?”
“Whatever’s on tap!”
Eventually Ben had a beer and Ryan found half a table—just half, but since it was just Ben, Ryan and Jasmine who were sitting right now, they managed it. A harried waitress came around and took their orders—burgers and fries, simple enough—and they settled into the place.
Well. Settled. For Ben it was more like sitting on the edge of his seat, but that was okay. He could put up with a lot when Ryan was smiling and Jasmine was being friendly and welcoming. She had the kind of voice that carried through the noise, and asked relevant questions about Ben’s writing that he could actually answer, now that he had the proposal down.
“Love letters,” she mused, sipping at her own beer. “That’s a neat concept. I wouldn’t have thought there would be all that many left around from the Revolutionary War, though.”
“Most people in that era who were educated were also prolific writers,” Ben said. “It was the best means of long-distance communication for the time, obviously, but there was still a lot that could go amiss, so people tended to save the letters they received.”
Jasmine grinned at him. “You know a lot of five dollar words, don’t you?”
“Nothing, just it’s not every day I hear ‘prolific’ and ‘amiss’ in the same sentence.”
“Technically it was two different sentences.”
“Such a writer,” Jasmine said. “Let me know if you ever want to write a graphic novel, I bet you’d be a dream to edit, unlike some people I know.”
“I know you’re not talking about me,” Ryan told her, pointing a French fry at her face. “Because I am an excellent writer.”
“You are, you just love semicolons way too much.”
“They’re a totally valid punctuation mark!”
“Not when you write in speech bubble format!”
Ryan clapped his hands—gently—over Ben’s ears. “Don’t listen to her filthy lies,” he laughed. “She’ll have you believing evil things in no time, like you can’t use the word ‘towards’ and that elves are supposed to be ‘elfs.’”
“The ‘s’ is unnecessary and only Tolkien should be able to get away with ‘elves,’” Jasmine defended herself. “He fought his own editors about that.”
“Someday I’ll write a book that features elves who speak nothing but Australian English and do magic with a ‘k’ and then you’ll be sorry.”
“Oh, if anybody’s gonna be sorry in this relationship, mister, it’s you.”
Ryan snorted a laugh and threw a fry at her. It hit her shoulder and slid down the fabric, leaving a greasy stain. “Oops! Sorry.”
“You jerk.” She threw three of her own back at Ryan, but somehow he ducked behind Ben and they ended up on him instead.
“Oh, shit—shoot,” Jasmine said apologetically, picking up her napkin and wiping at the residue on his shirt. “I’m sorry, I totally didn’t mean to hit you.”
“It’s okay,” Ben said. He shouldn’t have worn the dress shirt he wore on the plane anyway. Ryan was silent, a sure sign he was uncomfortable, so Ben changed the subject. “What other projects are you working on right now?”
“What, for the press?”
“Oh, well…” Jasmine started talking about her latest client, who’d set their story in a steampunk world—Ben was a little embarrassed to have to ask her to explain that, but she didn’t mind—and Ryan was mostly quiet, picking at his food. When they had to get up to make room for Jasmine to squeeze around their chairs to go to the restroom, Ben turned to Ryan and pulled him closer.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his lips right next to Ryan’s ear.
Ryan sighed. “This isn’t really your scene, is it?”
Ben shrugged. “Not really, but it’s not bad. I wouldn’t do it every night, but you like it, so it’s fine.”
“You’re the one visiting me, we should be doing things that you like.”
“I like getting to know who you’re living with.” Ben kissed the curve of Ryan’s jaw and felt some of his tension melt away. “Besides, tomorrow will be about doing things I like. I have to spend the day in the library.”
“The whole day?” Ryan asked wistfully.
“Probably.” Ben really did have to get some research done, and he was starting to look forward to the prospect of a day of nothing but himself, old manuscripts and the quiet of a library. Not that he didn’t want to spend more time with Ryan, he wouldn’t have left his trip open-ended if he didn’t, but there was plenty of time for both. “Is that okay?”
“You can do whatever you want,” Ryan said quickly. “I’ve got stuff to work on, it’s fine.”
Ben was left with the sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t fine, but then Ryan kissed him and he put it aside.
“Get a room, fags!” someone shouted from the bar.
Ben tensed and Ryan broke away. “You can suck my dick if you’re jealous, Johnny!”
“Ah, fuck you.” A few people laughed, the faceless voice shut up and Ryan turned back to explain.
“Johnny’s a regular here, and a gay guy, actually, he just doesn’t like PDAs. He yells at straight people too.”
“That’s Boston, baby, it’s full of charm.”
They stayed through the game, stayed through most of the people leaving, stayed until Lennie and Grant were free to come home, which was around two-thirty. Ben was exhausted; he hadn’t slept much the night before. It didn’t take long to get back to the apartment, and Ben fell into bed with a sense of relief, Ryan curling up in his arms like before. This, Ben liked. This he could handle. He closed his eyes and did his best to fall asleep, but sleep was a long time coming.
The walls of this apartment were kind of thin. Ben could hear the creaking of Lennie and Grant’s bed, rhythmic and regular for about fifteen minutes before it finally dropped off once they finished. He could hear Jasmine rolling around on the other side, punching her pillow and swearing under her breath. It was all unfamiliar, even the thrum of the radiators, and just strange enough that it kept Ben from being able to relax.
Hotels were one thing, Ben was used to those and they came with a certain ingrained amount of privacy, but sharing a space with people he didn’t really know was a whole other deal. He hadn’t had to live with anyone else since college, and even then, he’d only shared a dorm room the first year. Ben was too self-aware not to listen to everything around him, and while he’d always been good at tolerating one other person, more than one was problematic.
Ryan didn’t have that problem. He’d fallen asleep just minutes after his head hit the pillow, out like a candle. His breathing was deep and regular, completely relaxed, and Ben shut his eyes and focused on the sound of it, soft going in, a slight hitch on the way out. Ryan, he could listen to. In and out…in and out…gradually the sound blocked out everything else and Ben’s brain settled into the rhythm of it, and finally, sometime around four in the morning, he fell asleep.
His phone alarm went off at eight. “Fuuuck,” Ben moaned, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. He’d forgotten to turn off the alarm. It was set for six am Colorado time, early enough to give him a big window for getting to the airport. He let Ryan go and fumbled around for it, finally shutting it off after what felt like forever. He collapsed against his pillow with a sigh.
“Too early,” Ryan mumbled, wrapping his arms around Ben’s back and pulling him in close again. He was wonderfully warm, and Ben wanted nothing more than to just lie there and soak up the heat and affection, but the library opened at nine and he really did have to get started on his research.
“I’ve got to get up.”
“Mm-nn.” Ryan pressed his face between Ben’s shoulder blades and shook his head.
“Yeah, baby, I do. Sorry.”
“’kay.” Ryan sighed and rolled over. “’kay, I’m getting up.”
“You don’t have to get up,” Ben pointed out. He kissed Ryan’s bare shoulder, lips lingering on the black outline of a raven. It was so tempting to stay in bed, to run his tongue over these tattoos, get to know every part of Ryan that he’d missed the first time and refresh his memory of the things he’d seen before, but work was calling. And even though he was bone tired, Ben had to answer. “Stay in bed. Sleep. I’ll be back by this afternoon.”
“Kiss me,” Ryan said. Ben did, ignoring the morning breath and, with more difficulty, the morning wood. He kissed Ryan again, and again, then forced himself away.
“Go back to sleep, okay?”
“Mmkay. H’va good day.” Ryan pressed his face into the pillow, which made it easier for Ben to leave. He took a quick shower and changed, grateful that the bathroom Ryan shared with Jasmine was unoccupied, then made his way to the kitchen.
Jasmine sat at the table, her computer open on one side, coffee and toast on the other. “Good morning,” she said as he walked in. “Have some coffee, I put a mug out for you.”
“Thanks. How are you awake?” Ben demanded, pouring himself a cup.
“When a big project is finishing up I become an insomniac,” she confided, running a hand over her braids and shaking them a little. She wore a white cotton kimono with a cherry blossom pattern on the sleeves, and her feet were bare. The bright colors of the room suited her perfectly. Ben felt out of place in his dark blue polo shirt and jeans. He’d forgotten to bring his sweats along, so these were as close to casual as he got. “How are you awake?” she asked.
“I forgot to turn off my alarm,” Ben replied. “Which is okay, I’ve got work to do anyway.”
“Cool, maybe Ryan will get back on track today.”
Ben’s lips hesitated over his mug. “I’m sorry about springing this visit on you,” he told her. “I didn’t think about it much beyond wanting to see Ryan.”
“Oh, I’m glad you’re here,” Jasmine assured him. “I think the more time you guys get to spend together the better. It’ll give you a chance to really get to know each other.”
Ben shrugged. “I think he knows me pretty well.”
“Why, because of the letters?” Ben nodded and Jasmine shook her head. “Those are just words. And they’re not even his words, you wrote them for his brother. Ryan’s still in the phase of idolizing you, and you’re still in the phase of learning what he’s all about. More time together means more time to be genuine. For example.” She sat back and looked him over. “You didn’t fall asleep easy last night. I know, I heard you moving around.”
“I heard you too.”
“I figured as much. You’ve got your own house, right?”
“Right.” Two thousand square feet, all to himself. Ben was starting to understand that that was a real luxury.
“But Ryan likes being around people, the more the merrier. He’s a social butterfly, and you’re more of a quiet observer. Ryan likes small groups, big groups, one-on-one time; the only thing he doesn’t like is being alone. Whereas you seem like the kind of guy who enjoys being alone sometimes.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Nothing in particular. I’m just saying that it’s good you’re getting to know each other better. I don’t think Ryan’s as secure in his knowledge of you as you think he is, and he’s going to keep trying to impress you by letting you have your way. It’s a thing with him; he did it with me for the first year before I convinced him I wasn’t going to drop his project or kick him out of our apartment.”
“That’s…” It was sad, and a little disturbing, that Ryan felt like he had to be something he wasn’t to keep a person interested in him. Or maybe not something he wasn’t, completely, but a version of himself that was more like what he thought the other person wanted. “Complicated,” Ben finally finished the sentence.
“Yeah, he’s a complicated guy. But that’s part of what I love about him.” Jasmine looked back down at her computer. “Want me to call you a taxi?”
“Sure. Thank you.”