Notes: On we go! Lots of passing time and Ben interactions and eventual hints of things to come with this one. A few more parts and we’ll be able to wrap this baby up, darlins. I’m so excited to get started on Cody, I can’t even say. I got a very good piece of advice from my readerwife telling me that, as a young adult, if Cody didn’t infuriate/frustrate me with his actions sometimes he wouldn’t be a true representation of the age group, and that’s leading to all sorts of fun plans. So that’s niceJ Happy Tuesday, people.
Title: Love Letters
Part Thirty-Four: Can’t Leave Me To My Wallow
Ben didn’t get in touch with Ryan for almost three months.
He hadn’t intended to go so long, in the beginning. For a while the sheer magnitude of the separation seemed ridiculous, unsupportable, like something Ben was being masochistic about. Why deny himself something he wanted? Someone he wanted, who wanted him back? What was the harm in it?
The truth was, Ben knew full well the harm in it. He wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of taking the break in the first place if he hadn’t thought it through, he reminded himself late at night when he was alone in his house, his eyes blurring over the keyboard after a long day of forcing himself to write. It was worse after Heather left; Michael had a dozen different conferences to prepare for and manage over the summer, and so most of Ben’s human contact was limited to greeting the mail person every day and hauling himself to the grocery store once a week. He was well aware that he was acting pathetic, there just didn’t seem to be any palatable way to make himself stop.
He tried going to a few bars, listened to some decent jazz singers at the Soiled Dove Underground and one very terrible metal band at the Grizzly Rose, but was never able to really lose himself in any of it. Music wasn’t something Ben had really cultivated an appreciation for, and when he stopped by The Wrangler just to see what was going on and found the gay bar hosting a geek trivia night, he got out of there as soon as he possibly could. Too close, just a little too close still.
Pa-the-tic. Ben felt like that word deserved more syllables so he could draw it out even longer, it was such a perfect descriptor for how he was feeling all through June and half of July. It didn’t help that he spent each and every day with the Hound of Hell, otherwise known as Linda, nipping at his heels in an effort to get him to finish the manuscript for his book. Ben wasn’t in the right frame of mind to really appreciate a lot of his own research, and it was tedious to the point of anything looking better than working on it, even staring at video after video of adorable kittens. Maybe especially staring at videos of adorable kittens, actually, those were the kind of things you could appreciate for their gratuitous cuteness without getting emotionally involved in.
Linda was relentless, though. Rumor amongst the authors she represented had it that she’d nearly driven Jared Diamond to a nervous breakdown as she’d spurred him to finish Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed. You could have taken “societies” out and replaced it with “authors” and had Linda’s approach in a nutshell, because as far as she was concerned there was no such thing as a truly extenuating circumstance, especially after she’d negotiated you extra time already.
Linda sent daily emails, left daily voicemails, and when Ben stopped opening both of those she hired a singing telegram service and had a very tolerant woman in a Marilyn Monroe costume sing the opening verse of “I Just Wanna Be Loved By You,” extra emphasis on the saucy boop-boop-a-doop before handing Ben a note.
You should be writing right now, Benjamin! Writing about love! You have forty-four days to present me with a completed first draft, otherwise I’m coming out there.
Do not make me come out there.
“Look, so you know, she hired me to do this every day this week,” the singer told Ben, pushing back a platinum-blonde curl. “Whoever she is, this lady means business. She’s not an ex, is she? Because I don’t want to have anything to do with, like, stalking or something.”
“She’s not an ex,” Ben said, staring down at the note. “She’s my agent.”
“Oh, god,” the girl groaned. “Tell me about them. There’s a reason I moved back to Colorado after trying out L.A. for a while. My god, it didn’t matter how many times I told the man I had no desire to do commercials, he insisted that voicing Snugglette the Bear would launch me.”
“Snugglette the Bear?”
“You know the downy soft bear? The one that’s always encouraging you to snuggle with it’s fresh laundry?”
“Snugglette was supposed to be her new best friend, a bear with a bow. They were going to bounce across warm, soft sheets together and cuddle and giggle and all that. Apparently test audiences thought the bears were too gay together.”
“I’m sorry, wait…are you talking about lesbian teddy bears?”
“I know, right? Or maybe bisexual teddy bears. People will sexualize anything.” She shrugged. “The funny thing is, I really do think it would have made me if they’d picked up the commercial, because at least it would’ve gotten people’s attention, but it didn’t happen, so here I am. Being Marilyn.” She flashed him a bright smile.
“You make a great Marilyn,” Ben said, handing her a ten dollar bill as a tip.
“Thanks, honey,” she purred. “See you tomorrow.” She tottered down his narrow front steps in her high heels and back to her car. Ben watched her drive away, and then read the note again. Then he started laughing. He couldn’t help it. Nothing was really funny, by itself, but taken all together with the fact that Ben hadn’t had anything to laugh at in what felt like forever and he was barely able to prop himself up against the inside of the door for a few minutes.
It actually did get a little easier to write after that, and Heather finally made her way to a city that was “big enough to have a fucking internet café that doesn’t suck, fuck my life,” and uploaded a lot of pictures and posts to her travel blog all at once. Heather on safari was kind of awesome; Heather stuck with a chicken sitting between her knees in a sedan with double the usual number of passengers in it was even better.
Ben slowly sank back into the groove of writing, able to approach his material with enough distance that it was interesting again, relevant to the modern age but not painfully relevant to himself.
It wasn’t like Ben had no idea what was going on with Ryan, after all—Jasmine kept him updated and he did occasionally torture himself with the behemoth that was Facebook, but that was all he let himself have. Too much digging and he’d get stuck, he just knew it, and so he kept things impersonal and kept writing his book.
The hardest chapter to get through was the one on lost loves, its mainstay the letters of Avery Toth that he’d found so poignant. Avery’s was a love unfinished, without even the dubious satisfaction of giving history the identity of his mystery lover to see how the other person, whether it was Charles or Catherine or some other “C” name that had been lost to time, had dealt with the grief of Avery’s passing. Ben managed to work his angst about the whole thing into a fairly scholarly commentary on historical voyeurism and the despair of unanswered questions and called it good.
The rough draft was finished on the thirtieth of August, a full twenty-three hours before Linda’s due date. Ben celebrated by going out for drinks with Michael, who actually had some free time, followed by a midnight showing of an arthouse, black and white porno that he didn’t find sexy at all, but still somehow led to him making out in the back of the theater with Michael. It wasn’t anything serious, and Ben appreciated the touch of another person, the warmth of a willing body pressed against his side as they necked like teenagers, but beyond that there was no spark. There never really had been, between him and Michael, but dating, like necking, had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Michael finally pulled back as the lights came up. “Feel better?” he purred. “Because I certainly do.”
“Yeah,” Ben laughed, then winced as he felt around the base of this throat. “You’re a fucking vampire, you realize that, don’t you?”
Michael shrugged. “I like to make my mark. It’s nice to leave a little reminder behind, especially when it’s a one-off.”
“You think this is a one-off?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Ben, please. You’re obviously still caught up in your boy, and you’re not the sort of guy who does rebound sex, so yeah, this is a one-off. You get the chance to be distracted by someone you actually like without the hassle of leading me on and I get an enjoyable evening out with my friend. I’m too fucking tired to do any more than this right now anyway.”
“It’s tough to be the general manager of a major hotel, huh?” Ben asked, just to prod his friend into another lengthy exposition on why his promotion was amazing and everything was perfect and as soon as he got a handle on his schedule and the art of delegation, he’d start sleeping again.
“Come on, you corporate tool,” Ben said at last. “I’ll buy you coffee and you can tell me more about Japanese businessmen.”
“Stiff gents, but so lovely,” Michael rhapsodized as they walked out into the early morning. “If I had a daddy kink, oh darling, I would get myself to Tokyo and find someone worthy of me, I swear.” He chattered on as they found seats in a twenty-four hour diner and ordered coffee, and Ben almost missed it when Michael got serious again.
“So you still haven’t talked to him, then.”
“Ryan, your lost love. It’s been, what, since the start of June?”
“I’ve been busy,” Ben said defensively.
“Oh, I know that, darling, I’m not blaming you.” Michael sipped his coffee and grimaced. “Why can’t Starbucks be open all night? We have one in the hotel, did you know? I get free caffeine whenever I want it, it’s brilliant.”
“No wonder your coffee addiction’s gotten worse,” Ben said.
“Right, but I’m not the subject of interest at the moment. Ryan. Is it really finished, then? Because you told me it was, but I’ve the feeling that you lied to me.”
“I haven’t…completely decided yet,” Ben told Michael, fiddling with the chipped handle of his mug. “I’ve had too much to do to really think about him lately.”
“I see.” Michael looked at him for a long moment, as if gauging the percentage of that last statement that was a lie, then shrugged. “Well, now that your draft is done, your brain will be free for thinking. I’d puzzle it out sooner rather than later, before you develop a bigger complex than you already have, darling. Now, how do you feel about eating some grease in the form of bacon and eggs?”
“And hash browns,” Ben said immediately. “And you’re buying, for making me sit through that god awful film.”
“Darling,” Michael drawled as he flagged down the waitress. “Awful or not, the film wasn’t the point at all. The outing was. You savvy?”
“I savvy, Captain Jack.”
“And don’t you forget it.”
Later that day Linda called, and Ben actually let it through. “Yes?” he asked with more than a hint of apprehension.
“Benjamin! Oh, I spent all night reading through your draft, and it’s loooovely, just lovely! I mean, there are certainly things that could use some work and the fifteenth chapter is a perfect mess, and did you forget how to appropriately use a dash? Dashes aren’t hyphens, you know, and your reference section is in such a state I feel like it needs emergency surgery. But apart from that I loved it! Even the title is good. Too wordy, I mean, Love Letters: The Ardent Affection of the American Revolution, no, just…too many As, we’ll have to work on that, but it’s a good start.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll send it along to your editor as soon as you give me a dedication. A good one, Benjamin, not like last time.”
Ben frowned at his phone. “What was wrong with the last one?”
Linda’s sigh was long-suffering. “Benjamin. You dedicated your book to the original authors of the texts that you wrote about, all of whom have been dead for centuries. It’s impersonal and boring. This book is about love, and it needs a more personal touch for the dedication. So! What have you got for me?”
Ben had no fucking clue. “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” he hedged.
“Benjamin…your editor needs this manuscript yesterday!”
“I’ll get the dedication to you today, then. It’s not like it really matters this early in the process, anyway.”
“Your editor is a stickler for completed works. Why else would we be agonizing over your references section so?” she asked with a sigh. “Today, then. Thank you.”
Ben thought it would be hard, that he would mentally toss and turn over it once he actually sat down to write it, but in the end the dedication pretty much wrote itself.
This book would never have come about without inspiration in the form of Ryan, the genesis of my very own love story.
Ben sent it to Linda with the subject line BOOK DEDICATION, and then, before he could stop himself, emailed it to Ryan as well. He sat and stared at the computer, wondering if it had been a good idea, wondering if he was actually ready to start communicating with Ryan again, if Ryan was even still interested in him or had moved on like a rational human being—
His phone beeped. Ben picked it up with a slightly-shaky hand and read the text.
Ben grinned like an idiot at the words, vague and yet enough to make his whole body thrum with energy. As well you should be.
Does this mean I can keep texting you now?
Texting…Ben could handle texting. He wasn’t sure he was ready to hear Ryan’s voice again yet, but at least now he had positive confirmation that he wasn’t furious anymore. It felt so good not to be angry and defensive. Texting only. For now.
Got it. How about sending a package?
What’s in it? Ben typed.
Surprise. Nothing big, I swear, no letters or videos or pairs of my used boxers. ;)
Ben chuckled at the thought of it. As long as its underwear-free, sure.
And Ben had to consider it, actually had to wait and see if he meant it, but eventually it felt right to text back, My pleasure.