Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Love Letters Post #26


 

Notes:  The last part before Ben heads to Concord.  Setting the stage for all sorts of things, including Histrionic Family Time!  I’ll be modeling all interactions after my mother’s side of the family, whom I’ve not seen in a decade and still have nightmares about.  Yes, they’re that potent.

Title: Love Letters

 

Part Twenty-Six: If I Wanted To Know, I’d Ask.

 

***

 

There had been a time in college, when Ben had been confident and self-assured and, frankly, arrogant, when he had wondered why so many of his peers were so interested in what everyone else was doing.  Who cared if Karly’s boyfriend’s mom had gotten through surgery okay, what did it matter if Peyton’s dog had arthritis?  It seemed like people who barely knew each other, barely even spent any time together had a check list of minutiae pop up in their brains the moment they got together, so they’d have something ready-made to chat about when they had to speak.  How are you?  How’s your family?  How’s your dog?  How’s your car?  It seemed ridiculous, especially in light of the fact that usually, neither person knew the other one well enough to care.  Ridiculous.

Ben had asked his one and only girlfriend, Ignacia, what the point of it was.  Ignacia was from Portugal, studying English and Engineering and similarly awkward to Ben in some ways, although she had a much larger social circle.

“There doesn’t need to be a point to it, it’s just polite,” Ignacia had replied.  “Those sorts of questions make up the art of conversation.”

“Those sorts of questions barely even constitute conversation, much less have anything to do with art.”

Ignacia rolled her eyes, magnified even larger than they already were thanks to her glasses.  “Fine, then call it the art of small talk.  It’s what breaks barriers down between people, it is a way of showing someone that you care about them, that you’re interested in learning more.  Even if you really aren’t, it’s still polite to participate.”

“So what you’re saying is that small talk gives everyone a socially-sanctioned opportunity for voyeurism?”

“Curiosity is not voyeurism!”

“Yes it is,” Ben argued.  “I guess for some people those questions are reflexive politeness, even though I don’t think it’s very polite, but then for everyone else it’s an opportunity to pry into someone’s personal life and hope something salacious falls out.”

Her brow wrinkled.  “Salacious?”

“Gossipy.”

“Oh.  You really think this?”  Ignacia had asked, looking at Ben askance.

“Yes.”

She sighed.  “I will never be able to introduce you to my av√≥.”

They broke up a month later.

It took Ben a while to get over his personal hang-ups and learn to handle small talk, and he still wasn’t very good at it.  He wasn’t interesting enough for most people to really want to know about He could talk at great length about his family history though, and most of the time people found that interesting enough that he could get them off the subject of himself and onto the subject of Benjamin Franklin pretty easily.

Ben remembered his mother had been the same way.  Deborah Franklin Bache had been a physically unremarkable woman, small and serious, who had inherited her father’s square jaw and long nose.  On him they looked masculine and professorial; on her they formed a blend that seemed off somehow, her eyes too small and her forehead too low to compensate for her loss in outward femininity.  Coupled with the fact that Deborah was a scholar who didn’t really care about how she looked or what she wore, she was far from an easy person to talk to.  Ben remembered his classmates teasing him the few times his mother came to pick him up—“Is that your mom or your dad?” they’d asked, laughing a little.  It had hurt but Ben hadn’t said anything, and if his mother had ever noticed that something was wrong with her son, she never asked.  They had shared a house, she had kept him clothed and fed and checked his homework, and that was the vast majority of their relationship.  It had been the same with his grandfather, which was where Ben figured Deborah had learned it.

Family interactions weren’t comfortable for Ben.  Friends, well, Ben actually had those so he felt somewhat qualified to deal with Ryan’s friends, even though the only one he could honestly tolerate was Jasmine.  The family stuff, though…that was shaping up to be downright intimidating.

Ryan got down to Concord okay and moved back into his old bedroom.  Thus began an all-consuming stint of helping his mother, his sister-in-law and his niece and nephew, who became Ryan’s whole world.  Ben would get texts throughout the day that he had no idea how to respond to.

Joey put glue on his hands then rubbed them in his hair. Elmers not super thank god.

Molly and I ditched ballet for ice cream. Promised not to tell her mom.

Cheryl is dating someone now. Another cop. He comes to get her and she doesn’t get back until just before the kids wake up.

What was the appropriate response to that?  To any of those?  Ben usually settled on fairly nondescript emoticon responses when he had no clue what to say, and Ryan hadn’t seemed to mind yet, so…maybe he could fake it long enough to figure it out.

Ben kept sending letters, and Ryan kept sending pictures.  Most of them were funny, but a few weren’t.  Like the sketch of he’d done of Joey at Brody’s grave.

 



 

The grave stone was large and kind of ostentatious, and Ryan wrote that Joey was fascinated with it.  He’d run his hands over the carved letters and the cool stone, then touch the grass beneath it, then the stone again.  Ryan said that Joey was going through a phase where textures intrigued him.  It wasn’t necessarily a good phase, either.

Three days before Ben was due to fly out, Ryan called him up in a panic.  “My paintings are ruined,” he said without preamble.

“Ruined how?” Ben asked.

“Joey, he…I was teaching him a little bit about how to paint, I gave him some acrylics and a canvas to work with because acrylics are pretty easy to use and he seemed to like it, and he…when I wasn’t around, I was off getting Molly from her violin lesson, Joey covered his hands with paint and rubbed them all over my canvases.  I got most of the paint off some of them before it could dry and a few just had a spot here and there, but five of them are just worthless now.”  He sighed, and Ben could practically hear Ryan pulling his own hair.  “And I have to get them to Jasmine in two weeks if this volume is going to go to print on time, and I just don’t know how that’s going to happen.  Fuck.  Fuck.

“You didn’t lock your door?” was the first thing Ben thought to say, and he immediately wanted to smack himself for it when the line stayed silent for a while.

“No,” Ryan said at last.  “My mom was supposed to be supervising Joey, I thought it would be okay, but she got tired and took a nap.  And Cheryl was out.”

“I didn’t mean to…I know it’s not your fault.  I just…”

“It’s not anyone’s fault,” Ryan said tiredly.  “It’s just that I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Ask for an extension,” Ben replied.  This much, at least, he understood.  “Tell Jasmine you need more time, get her to bargain with the publishers.”

“Yeah, that’s the sort of thing New York Times bestsellers can get away with.  Small-time comic book artists, not so much.”

“You won’t know unless you try,” Ben said.  “Really, call her.  She’ll help straighten it out.  It’ll be okay.”

“Yeah, maybe.”  Ryan sounded exhausted.  “I had all these plans to show you around town and go to the speedway and the parks.  Now I’m going to be stuck at home redoing these paintings instead.  I hope that won’t bother you too much.”

Stuck at Ryan’s home, surrounded by his family, all of them coming together for a huge, frenetic birthday celebration?  Ben had booked a hotel room—his last experience had taught him the wisdom of that—but for every hour that wasn’t spent sleeping, he knew he’d be off-kilter.  He couldn’t just say that, though.  It was too late to cancel the trip, even though the thought of going out there was beginning to fill Ben with dread instead of anticipation.  “I’ll be fine,” he lied.

They hung up a little while later, and Ben immediately called Michael.

“What’s up, luv?”

“I’m going to fuck everything up.”

Michael snorted.  “Feet feeling a bit cold at the thought of meeting the family, then?”

“I’m terrible with families.”

“Oh I know,” Michael said, surprising Ben a little with how readily he’d agreed.  “I was planning to prime you for bloody weeks before introducing you to my mum, but fortunately we didn’t get that far.”

“Thanks,” Ben said dryly, feeling a little offended.

“Don’t be stroppy, Ben, it’s just the truth.  You’re a wonderful friend and an excellent lover, but you’re not exactly the type to take home to the family.  You couldn’t even pretend to be interested in my nieces.”

“It’s none of my business!” Ben exclaimed.

“It’s your business if it’s your boyfriend’s business.  You’ve got to take these people seriously; you can’t dismiss them like you did the artsy people at his flat.”  Ben had told Michael about his trip to Boston, and where it could have gone better as far as he was concerned.

Ben rubbed his eyes.  “I just want to see Ryan.  That was why I was going in the first place, not to get to know his entire extended family.”

“Life has a way of springing things on us, luv.  Think of it this way: if you’re serious about Ryan, then you’ll have to take the plunge with his family at some point, it might as well be now.”  Michael paused.  “Are you serious about him?”

“More serious than I’ve ever been about anyone else,” Ben admitted.  “I love him, I’m just…nervous, I guess.”

“Just be polite and take his side in any family arguments and you’ll likely be fine,” Michael said.

“Family arguments?  Are those likely?”

“An extended southern family who’ve recently suffered a terrible loss coming together for the ostensibly-happy occasional of celebrating multiple birthdays?”  Michael snorted.  “What do you think?”

Ben thought he might not survive, honestly.  But it was too late to back out now.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Two Lovely Things:)

First thing: I saw The Wolverine last night.  And it didn't suck.  It was actually pretty good, which is more than I've been expecting lately from the mutant half of the Marvel movie franchises (sorry, but the last Wolverine movie was just. Not. Good.  But this one?


This one has Wolverine, who is as ripped and snarly as ever, as well as sword fighting, ninjas, samurai, gigantic Japanese mechs and a female sidekick who is quite possibly the most interesting person in the entire movie, with a power that makes me wish I had thought of it first.


Yes, I have a total girl crush on this character, and no shame about admitting it.  She's badass.  See the movie for her if not for Hugh Jackman, folks.


The other lovely thing is...I finished Cambion today!  The final episode of the serial story is finally in the hands of my editor and will be released next month, along with another bonus story and a speedpaint drawing done by the ever-lovely Nathie, who did the art for the cover.  You can read more here: Cambion Season One.


I have to admit, I will be glad to have this one behind me.  It's been a great story to write and I have plans for a second season, but I've also got Love Letters, a collaborative novella and a m/f sci fi romance novel to finish by October.  Yeah.  So.  Anyway, good times!

Happy Sunday, darlins:)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Love Letters Post #25


 

Notes:  Longer, R-rated section for you guys today.  Ooh, enjoy it and watch the storm clouds start to brew overhead!  We’re in the last, oh, third to quarter of this story now, and I’m looking forward to beginning another serial in August, because I am a freak who likes to have too much to do.  That means I’ll have two running concurrently for a bit.  Never fear, I’ll post them on separate days so you won’t get overwhelmed.  And so I won’t get overwhelmed.  Ha-ha.

Title: Love Letters

 

Part Twenty-Five: Bad News and Bedroom Activities

 

***

 

Life settled down into a predictable pattern of work and play, more work by far but enough playing to keep Ben from dropping into a funk.  He organized, categorized, outlined and wrote and spent far too much time on the phone with Linda, but it finally felt like the book was coming together.  He might actually get ahead of schedule before he went out to join Ryan in Concord the last weekend of May, which would be perfect.  He didn’t want to be distracted when they saw each other again.

It turned out that distraction happened anyway, but not to Ben.  Ryan called him late on the evening of the 8th, and Ben didn’t even get a chance to say hello before Ryan blurted out, “Cheryl’s been in an accident.”

Later on, Ben would be embarrassed by the fact that it wasn’t concerned shock that made him pause before replying, it was the effort of trying to remember who Cheryl was.  It came to him in a rush: Brody’s wife, Ryan’s sister-in-law, the woman who didn’t want me at her husband’s funeral.  Right, Cheryl.  “What kind of accident?”

“A fucking—” Ryan’s breath fluttered and caught his in throat and Ben realized then that it was bad.  “A fucking car accident.  Can you believe it?  After everything that happened, after Brody, she…she was heading home from a restaurant and drove her car into a tree.”

“Were the kids with her?”

Ryan exhaled gustily.  “No, thank god, she was alone.  But she’d been drinking.  Her blood alcohol level was way over the limit.  My mom knew Cheryl had been having problems, the kids are hard to manage by herself, especially Joey, but she didn’t think it was this bad.  I just got off the phone with her and she couldn’t stop crying, she thinks it’s her fault for not checking in with Cheryl more often—”

“How is Cheryl?” Ben asked, breaking in before Ryan talked himself in a circle.

“She’s going to be okay.  Got a concussion, and she broke her collarbone and has a lot of bruising.  The cops aren’t even going to charge her with reckless driving, they’re all taking it easy on her because she was Brody’s wife and no one else was hurt.”

“That’s pretty lucky.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”  Ryan didn’t sound convinced, but he let it go.  “She and the kids are going to go stay with my mom once she’s discharged, probably tomorrow.  I’m…I’m going to go help.”

Oh, wow.  “You’re moving back to Concord?”

“Since Cheryl’s out of commission, yeah, I am.  Mom can’t take care of Molly and Joey by herself, especially since their schools are across town in two different places.”

Ben kind of didn’t want to bring it up, but he had to ask.  “Doesn’t your sister live close by?”

Another sigh.  “Pamela can’t even remember to pick up her own kids from school, there’s no way she could handle any more than she’s already got.”  Ryan paused, then said, “Plus, Mom asked me for help.  It’s the first time she’s asked me for anything since I moved away, I couldn’t say no.”

                Brody had always described his sister Pam’s cluelessness as legendary, but Ben was still a little surprised by the reality of it.  And Ryan wasn’t the type to even think of saying no when someone he cared about asked him to do something.  Ben’s trip to Boston had showcased that side of Ryan pretty well, the part of him that wanted to make everyone happy, or as close to it as he could get.  Regardless, it wasn’t Ben’s place to judge.  “I guess you’re moving back to North Carolina, then.”

                “For a while,” Ryan agreed.  He sounded kind of frayed.  Ben wished he could jump through the phone; his fingers actually twitched with the impulse to stroke Ryan’s hair.

                “You’re bringing your artwork, right?”  That might give Ryan an outlet for the mixed emotions that were sure to come up while he was living in the home he’d been kicked out of over a decade ago.

“Yeah, I’ve got to.  Volume Five is supposed to be published at the end of June and I’ve still got a dozen panels to finish.  Jasmine’s caught somewhere between mothering me and murdering me.”

“She’ll default to mothering,” Ben assured Ryan with a smile. 

“Probably.  I wish I didn’t have to risk it either way.”

“I know the feeling.” 

They let the moment of perfect understanding linger for a while before Ryan finally broke it with, “If I didn’t have to pack, I would so get off with you right now.”

Ben laughed into the phone.  “It’s—” he checked the time, “almost midnight, you should be sleeping, not packing.  Are you going to drive down?”

“Yeah, I rented a car, and no, I shouldn’t be sleeping, I should be getting off with you,” Ryan groused.  “I miss you being here.  I know I’ve said it a million times, but it’s true.  If you were here I could roll over on top of you and kiss that spot just below your belly button that makes you giggle, and then I could take off your boxers—no, I would outlaw boxers in bed, why do you even wear those things—and I would blow you until you were seeing stars.”

Ben shifted in his computer chair, getting a little extra space between his thighs to accommodate his growing erection.  “I don’t giggle.  And I wore boxers in bed because at any moment someone might have busted into your room to make helpful comments about our sex life.”

“You do giggle, and they weren’t that bad.”

The hell they weren’t, Ben thought, but he didn’t say it.  Instead he said, “Maybe I wouldn’t let you just have your way with me.  Maybe I’d like to have my way with you instead.  I could pin you to the bed and suck you into my mouth and work my fingers inside of you…I know you like it when we’re really close, so tight that there’s nothing between us, not even a millimeter of space.  Would you like me to be even closer?  Want me inside of you?”  They’d done this once while Ben was in Boston, him giving Ryan a blow job while he fingered him.  It had been a long time since Ben had touched another man that way, since college, actually; he hadn’t been comfortable enough or uninhibited enough with anyone since then to get so intimate, not even with Michael.  Gratifyingly, Ryan had loved it, he had come so hard he had to muffle his face with a pillow to keep from alarming all his roommates, but they hadn’t had the time or really the opportunity to take it further.

“Omigod, I do want you inside of me,” Ryan moaned, and Ben smiled.  “It’s not the same when I touch myself, and this time I want all of you.  I want you to fuck me.”

Ben wanted that too, so much that he had to take his hand off of himself to keep himself under control.  “If I were there right now, I would.  I’d roll you onto your stomach and make you keep your hands by your head so you couldn’t touch yourself.  I wouldn’t touch your cock either, all of my focus would be on your tight little ass.”  It had definitely been tight, Ben remembered that much.  Ryan swore he’d had penetrative sex with men before, but he’d definitely been out of practice.  “Remember how long it took me to get the first finger in last time?”

“Too long,” Ryan said, but he sounded appreciative.  “You could do it faster, I wouldn’t mind.”

“I could, but I don’t want to.  I want you to focus too, I want the only thing you think about to be how good you feel and how much more you want.  You could even tell me, but I wouldn’t let you distract me too much.  I want to taste you.”

“Taste me?”  Ben heard the creak of Ryan’s mattress as his boyfriend moved around, then settled down again.  “Taste me how?”

“I’d start with my tongue at the nape of your neck,” Ben said, closing his eyes.  He could see it, the slender curve of Ryan’s spine, the graceful line of his neck.  All flushed and glowing with sweat, muscles shifting with impatient need.  “I love that spot on you, it’s so soft there.  I’d trace over every single vertebra, and I wouldn’t stop until I got to your ass.”

“Why…why stop there?” Ryan asked. 

“Because you have an amazing ass and I barely know where to start with it,” Ben told him.  “I’d press my lips to the dimples just above your cheeks and suck until they were bright red.  God, it would be hard to stop, I’d want to put my mouth on every square inch of you.  And once I finally had and you were red everywhere, then I would go back to the middle and spread you apart with my hands, and I’d press my weight against your legs so you couldn’t shift and then I’d touch the tip of my tongue to your hole.”  Ryan whimpered and Ben grinned.  “Just the tip to start, because I know you’d flinch and I’d have to go slow to get you used to it.  I’d trace your edges and folds and get you so wet before I even thought about pressing inside of you.”

“More,” Ryan said huskily.  “Give me more.”

“I would, I’d press against you with my tongue until you opened up, until you relaxed and let me inside.  I’d fuck you with my tongue and I wouldn’t stop until you were begging me for more, and even then I might not listen at first, just keep going until I was satisfied you could take me.”

“Then you’d fuck me?”

“Then I’d use my fingers.”  Ryan groaned with genuine frustration and Ben grinned.  “Can you feel them now?  Are they in you?”

“Yesss…” Ryan hissed, and the thought that he was slipping his own long fingers inside of himself right now made Ben bite the inside of his cheek hard to distract himself.

“I’d start slow, just holding them inside, twisting them a little before I pulled them back and started to thrust.  I’d take them almost all the way out before I pushed in again, so slowly.  I’d have to go slow now while I could because there’s no way I could be that slow once I got my dick inside of you.”  Dirty talk was hardly Ben’s forte, but from the noises Ryan was making Ben figured he was doing all right.  “Your body is fascinating, I could just watch my hand move in and out of you for hours.  I love the feeling of you, slick and soft and hot.  You’re going to feel so amazing when I fuck you.”

“Do it now,” Ryan begged, and that was just about Ben’s limit for self-control.  “Now, fuck me now, please, mmnh…”  He sounded strained at the end, and whatever he was doing to himself Ben wanted to be in on it.

“I can do that, I want it, you don’t even know…just pull my hand out and lift your hips and drive right into you.”  Ben pulled his cock out of his boxers and wrapped his hand around it.  The grip was too dry for a lot of movement, but he was so close it wasn’t going to matter.  He just squeezed himself tight and swept his thumb over the head, where his precome was starting to drip.  “Christ, you’re so hot, baby, you feel so good.  I just have to move, I have to go fast and hard, I can’t stop.  I want to fuck you until you can’t even breathe, until you come all over the bed and you don’t even have to touch your cock, just the pressure of the sheets and my dick in your ass and it’s more than you can take, you just have to come…”

“Ben, Ben, yes, ah—  Ben heard the catch of Ryan’s breath in his throat and knew he really was coming now, probably full of his own fingers, gorgeous and naked and hard…and that vision was enough to send Ben over the edge as well.  He fisted himself, just short bursts of movement against hot, hard skin as he came over his hand.  He shut his eyes and almost dropped the phone as his brain shut down for a moment, no room for anything in his head except the pleasure of coming and the thought of Ryan.

Ryan was the one to eventually break the comfortable silence.  “How am I supposed to pack now?”

“Don’t pack, get some sleep,” Ben told him, reaching awkwardly for a tissue to take care of some of the mess.

“I can’t, I have to pick the rental car up first thing in the morning and I have to have everything ready to go.”

“Just a nap, a little one.  You can’t drive to Concord on no sleep.”

“S’just twelve hours or so…”

“Sleep, please.  Just a little.  And let me know when you get there, okay?”

Ryan laughed.  “You sound like Jasmine.  Or Brody, he never believed I was a good driver.”

Ben didn’t know quite what to do with that statement.  He settled on avoidance.  “I talk to you tomorrow.”

“Mmkay, I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ben put the phone down and tucked his softened cock back inside his underwear.  He glanced at the calendar on his wall and grimaced.  Maydays was suddenly looking a lot more complicated.  The last thing he wanted was to be in Cheryl’s line of fire, given how poorly that had gone last time.  With everything that was going on, it might be better if he cancelled the trip.

No, it was too soon to be making a decision about that.  Ben knew that Ryan wanted him to be there, and it was just going to be for a weekend.  He could handle a weekend with Ryan’s family.  Right?

Sure.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Movies and more...

Hi!

So, a couple movie reviews to get out of the way.  It's weird, I read so many more books than I do movies and yet movies are the things I review on my erotica blog?  Um, what?  Maybe it's because they feel like more of a rare event to me.

A while back I saw The Heat:


Honestly, it shouldn't have been as funny as it was, this is a movie I've watched numerous times in other incarnations.  But it's excellent in part because the physical comedy is hilarious and also because it stars women, who are somewhat novel in these roles.  The roles themselves are rehashed (bawdy, brash, incredibly irreverent one meets uptight, prissy, by-the-books one) and so is the plot (we have to work together to solve this crime? Oh noes!  Wait, this is kinda fun...hey, it's working out...OMG, physical danger, physical danger, brief emotional moment, physical danger, awkward yet inevitable resolution!!!!!).  Nevertheless, it was freaking hilarious.  My man just about fell out of his chair.  Truly epic, and the cat...oh, the cat.

Then yesterday I saw R.I.P.D.:


So, this was...not as awesome as I had hoped.  Really.  By a lot.  Did it completely suck?  No!  The concept is really fun, all sorts of puns were used and used well (Eternal Affairs as opposed to Internal Affairs, so cute, but then I'm easy when it comes to puns) and it could have been great.  But it wasn't.  The story fell somewhere between info dump and sight gags destined to account for failing description, the youngish cop main character (played by Ryan Reynolds, who I love and have seen in very funny roles before) was uninspiring to say the least, which meant the scratchy older partner (Jeff Bridges, who had to work way too hard to carry this movie along) had a fine line to walk between overwhelming and merely conducting the light.  The special effects were decent and I always enjoy evil Kevin Bacon, but overall...I just feel like it should have been better.  

On the plus side, one of the coming attractions was for The World's End, which is a Simon Pegg movie which means I know it's going to be funny and interesting.  



And it's got Martin Freeman looking dapper in a suit!  Fucking sign me up!

That tears it.  I need to watch some Sherlock, stat.

Hmm, other stuff...let's see, one of my friends leaves for Saga, Japan next week.  Tonight's her going away party and next Tuesday she's bringing her cat to my house, where said cat will become ours for the next year as we look after her for our friend.  The cat's name?  Rage.  Not as in angry, exactly; this is a Togo cat (yeah, this is out friend who did Peace Corps with us and brought back a cat) and in French, rage is the term for rabies.  So, not really an improvement, blame my friend.  Pics will soon follow.

Have a wonderful weekend, darlins!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Love Letters Post #24


 

Notes:  So, this part is a little shorter than some of the others, but the next one should be longer and I hope the pictures make up for it.  Let me reiterate how terrible I am with anything resembling photo manipulation, so these are a quick and dirty job courtesy of an online program and I have no rights at all to the original pics. 

I haven’t decided definitively on another serial yet, but I’m still leaning toward yes.  I’ve got to finish Cambion, though.  That’s my task for this next week.  So close!  So…freaking…close!

Title: Love Letters

 

Part Twenty-Four: The Lost Lover of Avery Toth

 

***

 

Ben got the chapter synopses in to Linda on time.  Overall she was delighted; the only one she balked at was the chapter titled “Lost Loves.” 

“Do you really think it’s necessary to single them out like that?” she asked him over the phone a few weeks down the line.  “I mean, really. An entire chapter devoted to letters between people who ended up losing each other?”

Ben barely registered her; he was too busy looking over the copious hand-written notes that covered his computer desk.  “So, faithfulness until death bugs you but rampant infidelity doesn’t.”  He was referring to the chapter on the lotharios of the day, who often reused the same love letter on many different women.

“It doesn’t really bother me, Benjamin, it just makes me wonder a bit.  I mean, we don’t want this to be the chapter that everyone skips.  Plus, readers like a bit of salaciousness in their history, the lotharios should play up nicely.”

“If you want scandal, look closer at Lost Loves.

“You’re referring to when you infer that the object of Avery Toth’s affections might have been a man.”  Linda sighed.  “Do you really want to throw your cap in with that lot, Benjamin?”

“What lot are you referring to?” he asked her, irritated now.  “The gay lot?  Because I do happen to be gay, so yeah, I’m in there.”

“No no, not that, the radical lot,” Linda replied.  “The revisionist lot that insists on finding secret meanings and hidden depths in everything.  Honestly, I’d love to see you get a show on the History Channel, but if it meant you were doing the gay version of Ancient Aliens I’d have to disavow you.”

Ben had to chuckle a little at that.  “This is nothing like gay aliens, I promise.  The evidence that exists is highly suggestive, especially considering that the only woman he might have been writing to was married to another man before Avery had been gone for two months.  Hardly the actions of a pining lover, and yet the letters continued for another nine months until Avery was killed.” 

“If you say so, Benjamin.”

Honestly, Avery’s story was shaping up to be Ben’s favorite part of the project.  It was mysterious, it was romantic, it was tragic.  He had died so young, but had been such a faithful correspondent to his family and to whoever C was.  Interestingly, while Catherine Darrow, who everyone originally assumed was his correspondent, had married and gone on to live for another fifteen years before succumbing to a bout of typhoid, Charles Lancaster, the other pronounced possibility, had completely dropped off the proverbial map after his friend’s death.  As the only son of a well-to-do family in a Loyalist-leaning Virginian town, he should have been implicated in records of sales, of marriage, of something like all the rest of his family was.  Instead he vanished, utterly.  Ben was trying to find mention of him among the logs of sailing vessels; it was possible he’d gone to his extended family’s home in England, the Lancasters were a well-known family, but so far Ben had been unsuccessful. 

                When Ben got into a fanciful mood, which was happening occasionally with this project, he reread Avery Toth’s last letter to C.  It was sent from Camden before Colonel Buford’s detachment headed up to Waxhaws, where the battle that ended so badly for the continentals took place.  The letter was short but poignant, sweet and hopeful.  It was devastating.

We are moving north on the morrow, after separating from Commander Caswell’s unit. I will not have the chance to write you after this for some time, I think. Do not fear for me, though. I have faith that we will be together again soon. This paper token must take my place in your arms until then.

Always yours,

Avery

                Ben ended up sending a copy of Avery’s letter along with his own in the next envelope for Ryan.  He found that he liked sending Ryan letters; there was something viscerally satisfying about it, especially in connection with his current project.  It wasn’t that Ben didn’t keep talking to Ryan on the phone, and they did have sexy Skype which was slightly awkward and very hot (the first time, at least—the second time they were interrupted by Ryan’s roommates and the mood was gone) but the letters seemed special.  It was a little like writing to Brody in that Ben felt free to be more intimate, but the thing about writing to Ryan was that Ben got the satisfaction of Ryan writing him back.  Or more often, Ryan drew a picture that had a note attached to it.

                Ben’s letter accompanying Avery’s had been fairly brief, just him musing on what might have happened to C, since this letter had ended up in the hands of Avery’s sister.  I can’t help but wonder why his lover didn’t hold onto this one, of all the things he or she might have kept of him.  It was the perfect token, and easily hidden.  Did Avery Toth’s secret lover flee, tormented by his loss?  Was Avery simply forgotten by this point?  Or is it possible that his lover determined that the only thing left to do after hearing of the massacre of Waxhaws was to go and find out the truth of what had happened?  More than half of the men were captured, although many of them were badly wounded. If Avery’s lover went after him, if Avery’s lover was a man, perhaps he thought it was too risky to have the letter on him when he went to search for him. And if he did go, what happened to him when he discovered the truth? I’m still trying to piece it together.

                Ryan’s response was one of Ben’s favorites so far.  He sent a piece of paper with two sketches on it, one on either side.  On the front was a slightly amorphous young man wearing Revolutionary-era garb, his shadowed face contemplative.



 

On the other side was a picture of Ben, his face much more carefully realized.  At the bottom of the paper were the words:



Sometimes a paper token just isn’t enough.

 

There was definitely truth to that.  Ben missed Ryan every day, but he appreciated the correspondence.  Heather smiled with just a little bitterness and called him incredibly old-fashioned, Michael teased him about the relative might of pens versus swords along with every dick pun he could throw in there, but Ben just ignored them both and carefully fixed every picture Ryan sent on the wall above his computer.

Very slowly, he was bringing art back into his house.  And it had nothing to do with centuries-old battles or portraits of famous dead relatives, and everything to do with the now, and with living, and love.  It was exciting just to look at the pictures Ryan sent him, and Ben knew that Ryan was keeping the letters that Ben sent him as well.  If paper tokens were what they were going to have for the next month or so, this was a pretty good exchange as far as Ben was concerned.

A little under a month left to go, and Ben was actually looking forward to Maydays.