Notes: What our boys really need is some alone time, but that isn’t what they get. Not yet! Soon, I promise. Boston is taking up a lot of story time, but we’re working through some things here. Patience, my darlins, the sweetness is coming.
Title: Love Letters
Part Twenty-B: People Aren’t Psychics
If Hell—or for Ben, at least Purgatory—was a crowd he didn’t know, then Heaven was a library. The main branch of the Boston Public Library was one of the most physically imposing buildings Ben had been inside. It reminded him a little of the cathedrals he’d been dragged to as a child when he and his mother had lived overseas, except where the cathedrals were lit with the candles of the faithful and murky rainbows of stained glass, the library was bright with electric lights and sunshine. The central room was a long hallway with an arched stone ceiling and two rows of wooden desks that spanned the length of the room. Ben listened with half an ear as the librarian who was helping him with his research chatted quietly about the age of the library, the architecture, and the different collections.
Props to Time Magazine for the picture
“You’ll be working in this room,” she said, escorting him out of the main hall into a smaller chamber with a wide table and a single chair. “I’ve gone ahead and pulled the relevant Adams letters. Just buzz me when you’re done and I’ll get you the Crooks. If you need to leave at any point to get a drink or go to the restroom, please lock the door behind you when you go and I’ll unlock it for you when you need to enter again.”
“Thank you,” Ben glanced quickly at her nametag, “Calanthe.” Wow, someone had gone very retro with that.
“My pleasure, sir.”
Ben sat down in the chair, in the absolute quiet of the room, and looked at the priceless documents on display in front of him. The air was tinged with the scent of old paper, and the lights in here were low and soothing. God, if he wasn’t careful Ben was going to end up falling asleep, it was so relaxing in here. If he conked out and drooled all over one of the Adams letters, though, he’d never forgive himself. Ben rubbed his fingers against his eyes, arched to crack his upper back, then went to work.
When Ben wrote about letters, when he described them, he wrote about much more than just the content of the letters themselves. That sort of thing he could look up anywhere, especially since John Adams’ romance with Abigail was so well known. How the letter was written was equally important, though. Did the nub of the pen scratch in places, slip here and there? Was the writing cramped or expansive? Was the letter torn and bent, or pressed carefully and treasured? Little things like that gave Ben insight into the original author’s frame of mind when Ben saw them, and even if it was mostly just impressions, nothing provable, it was still interesting. He bent over the letter, turned the nearest light to illuminate it better and got to work.
Ben filled half a notebook with observations before he finally stopped for lunch. It might have been more efficient if he’d typed things directly into his computer, but the intermediate step of writing them out by hand gave him time to really consider what he was doing. He ran outside to grab a sandwich and some coffee at the nearest café, inhaled them in less than five minutes and went back in to continue working.
Ben tore himself away once his eyes started blurring so badly he couldn’t make out the script anymore. God, he was tired… He buzzed up Calanthe and let her know he’d be back tomorrow, then left the letters to her expert care as he packed up and headed back outside. Ben sat down on a bench, tilted his head back and considered the wisdom of having another cup of coffee when all he really wanted to do was sleep. That wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon though, so…
Someone sat down on the bench next to him. “Hey.”
Ben forced his eyes open and looked over at the newcomer. “Ryan?” He sat up a little more. “Hi.”
Ryan smiled. It wasn’t his normal beaming grin, but at least it didn’t look forced. “Hi. You weren’t answering your phone, so I thought I’d come make sure you hadn’t pulled a Neverending Story on me.”
“The Neverending Story?” Ryan prompted. “Book, movie, bad sequels…you don’t know it, really?”
“We should watch it, the movie is actually really good. I loved the book when I was a kid, too.”
“I’d love to watch a movie with you,” Ben said honestly. Somewhere quiet and dark and private… “And I’m sorry about the phone thing; I turned it off in the library.”
“That’s okay.” Ryan looked down and back up, his hands fidgeting with the hem of his shirt, and Ben smiled at him.
“Come here.” Ryan came, and Ben tilted his head and kissed him gently, not caring that it was four in the afternoon on a busy street and that people might be watching. For a moment nobody else mattered.
They pulled apart after a moment, and now Ryan seemed much more at ease. “Mmm…do that again,” he ordered, grinning at last.
“Soon,” Ben promised. “What’s the plan for the rest of the day?”
“Well, Jasmine’s cooking again, and Lenny and Grant are having a few people they’re planning a show with over to the apartment tonight.”
“So we wouldn’t be missed if we stayed away?” Ben asked hopefully, visions of dinner out and, even better, a hotel room playing out in his head.
Ryan frowned. “You don’t like them?”
“I like them fine. Especially Jasmine,” Ben assured him. “I’m just not sure I’m going to be great company tonight.” Because I’m going to fall asleep as soon as I get horizontal.
“I already promised we’d be there,” Ryan said, with the air of someone who was just figuring out that doing that might not have been a great idea. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay.” It wasn’t like Ben had told him not to. “But save tomorrow night, I’ve got something planned for us.”
“Okay.” They sat there quietly for a moment, awkward in a way they hadn’t been before, until Ben reached out and tangled his fingers together with Ryan’s. Ryan gripped back tightly and looked relieved.
“Do we need to bring anything back?” Ben asked, forcing himself upright with a little grimace. His back ached from being bent over the table all day.
“Just ourselves.” Ryan pulled Ben’s hand to his lips and kissed his knuckles, then let go and went to flag down a taxi. He got one in under a minute, naturally. They headed back to the apartment and Ben did his best to put himself in a sociable mindset.
In the end his mindset didn’t matter—sociable was the order of the evening whether Ben wanted it or not. A “few people” ended up being around twenty, the apartment was packed and Jasmine was busy as hell, and loving every minute of it. Ben was introduced around as “Ryan’s writer!” by Lenny, who was completely taken with the concept, and he shook hands and got hugs and forgot names for a few hours as more people filtered in and out.
It wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that Ryan was waylaid a few minutes after their return by some fellow illustrators, and the friendly hellos soon morphed into a technical discussion that Ben couldn’t follow and wasn’t really invited to. Ryan was enjoying himself though, that was clear to see, and so Ben did his best to keep a look of vague interest on his face when he was close to the group, which was whenever he could escape from Lenny and the flow of newcomers. The need for sleep pulled at him, reinforced by warm food and alcohol, and it was only the noise and the occasional moments of discomfort that came from being surrounded by strangers that kept him on his feet.
At half past nine, Ben’s phone rang. He checked the number and sighed with relief, then looked over at Ryan, who was talking to three other people about oil painting. Seeing Ryan confident and eloquent about his expertise was captivating, but by this time Ben needed an escape, and the phone call was the perfect excuse.
“I have to take this,” he told Ryan, interrupting for just a moment. “I’ll be back.”
“Okay.” Ryan turned his face up and Ben kissed him obligingly, then headed for Ryan’s bedroom. He got inside, sat down on the bed and answered the call.
“Holy shit, you’re a lifesaver.”
Michal laughed. “Someone sounds cranky! What, Boston not all it’s cracked up to be?”
“Insofar as Boston has Ryan and an amazing library, yeah, it’s fine.”
“So what’s the problem then?”
“Boston also comes with three roommates and, right now, a party.”
“A party, oh god forbid.”
“Shut up, you know how I am at parties.” Ben knew he was whining but he couldn’t help it.
“Yes, I know how you are. You’re probably contemplating mass murder.”
“Not murder. Suicide, maybe.”
Michael tsked. “Now now, no suicide on your very first trip out there. You can’t tell me you aren’t enjoying being with your boy.”
“I do enjoy being with him, just not with everyone else.”
“And naturally you’ve talked it out beforehand so he knows your preferences and can cater to them without either of you feeling uncomfortable or put-upon on this visit.” Michael was using his “smug bastard” tone of superiority, which made Ben want to throw something at him.
“You know we didn’t talk,” Ben sighed. “The visit was a surprise, remember?”
“Then consider this a valuable learning experience for next time. Dialogue is key when neither one of you has psychic powers.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know I’m being an idiot, thanks.” Ben didn’t want to make Ryan or his roommates uncomfortable, or like they had to change just for him. On the other hand, he was so fucking tired…
“Welcome to being in a relationship that you care enough to make sacrifices for,” Michael told him, soundly gleeful. “Idiocy comes with the territory. It’s part of the learning curve. Just don’t be too much of an idiot; I don’t want you coming home in tears.”
“Oh, like you’ve ever had a relationship that you’ve made sacrifices for.” If he had, it wasn’t when he and Ben had been together.
“I had the same boyfriend all through uni, thanks very much. Can you say the same?”
“Wow, would you look at the time? I’ve got to go, so sorry, bye.” Ben hung up and tossed the phone on the nearest pillow, then lay back on the bed with a sigh. He’d go back out there in a minute, in just a minute. It was relatively quiet in here, and the things that had kept Ben from sleeping last night seemed irrelevant now. Just one more minute, and he’d head back out into the fray. One more minute, just one…
Ben woke up an indeterminate amount of time later, when he felt himself being rearranged on the bed. “Hmm?”
“It’s okay, it’s just me,” Ryan said softly, moving the phone to the bedside table before he tucked the pillow under Ben’s head.
“Shit, what time is it?”
“Late.” The sounds of a party still filtered in through the door, but they were a little quieter now.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep…”
“You obviously need it,” Ryan said. “Jasmine told me you didn’t sleep much last night.” He sounded unhappy, and Ben hated that.
“I didn’t, but it’s not because of you.” Ben sat up and caught Ryan’s hand in his. “It isn’t, seriously. It just takes me a little time to get used to a new place.”
Ryan didn’t say anything, but he didn’t let go of Ben’s hand either. Ben tugged him close and went to kiss him, then grimaced. “Wait, my mouth tastes horrible, I should go brush my teeth.”
“I don’t care.” Ryan kissed him anyway, long and sweet and a little anxious still. He tasted like cranberry vodka and tamarind, and he opened the kiss and invited Ben in, their tongues tangling briefly. Ryan pressed closer and Ben felt himself start to get hard, despite his fatigue. His free hand slipped around Ryan’s waist, underneath his shirt and across the smooth skin of his back—
“Ryan! Yo, Ry!” Someone banged on the door. “Come on, you said you’d be two minutes!”
Ryan broke the kiss with a huff. “Hang on!” he shouted. “Sorry,” he mumbled to Ben, whose erection was already going down as he remembered their circumstances.
“It’s fine. Go on, I’ll follow as soon as I brush my teeth.”
“No, stay here. Get some rest. I’ll be back soon.”
Part of Ben wanted to argue, but more of him wanted to sleep. “Okay.” Ryan slipped away and rejoined the party, and Ben waited for the bathroom to be free so he could get properly ready for bed. Despite his catnap he fell asleep fast, and not even Ryan rejoining him and wrapping him up like an octopus could do more than make his eyelids flutter.
He slept, and he didn’t dream. It was wonderful.