Notes: Grr, arg, freaking blogger! The text message that has been bothering me and so many other people, fuck it—here’s a picture of it.
It's a heart. I heart u. Love, not HTML, but Blogger doesn't respect that.
Enjoy the next part of the story, guys.
Title: Love Letters
Part Seventeen: Love Is The Answer
March was destined to be a hard month. Ben knew that going into it. He had a lot of work to do and no idea what he was supposed to be doing it on, which meant fishing for inspiration. He reread the contents of his grandfather’s library, skimming over titles he had no interest in and delving into anything even vaguely epistolary. Ben knew that he’d set a standard, he knew certain things were expected of him by the majority of his readers and he didn’t mind playing to that. He wouldn’t be able to put up with Linda otherwise. But it all felt so…so dry.
Ben read letters between brothers, letters between friends; he even broke down and found a collection of letters related to spying from the Clements Library and perused them, getting a little intrigued by the different methods the writers had taken to guard their work from discovery.
Some, like the one between Benedict Arnold and John Andre, had been written in a secret code. The translations were interesting, but Ben had already been over most of Benedict Arnold’s correspondence and he knew that unless he could come up with something really compelling, Linda was going to turn that proposal away at the door.
One of the letters on display had been written as small as possible, then cut into strips that were inserted inside of a writing quill. The body of the letter even mentioned another letter which had been concealed but found out.
“There is a report of a messenger of yours to me having been taken, & the letter discovered in a double wooded canteen, you will know of any consequence; nothing of it has come to us.”
Another letter had been done in invisible ink, a mixture of ferrous sulfate and water that only appeared when the paper was heated over a candle flame. One of the cleverest methods though, and unique to the British during the war, had been writing a letter that was essentially full of nonsense and then looking at it through a unique shape, honing in on the words that the author really wanted to say and ignoring the rest of it.
Probably the most poignant letter was the one sent from Rachel Revere to her husband Paul, a short plea for him to take the money she was sending him via a friend and run for his life. Sadly, the friend she had entrusted the money to was a British spy, who gave the letter over to British authorities and pocketed the money himself. The closing lines in particular got to Ben.
“Keep up your spirits and trust your self and us in the hands of a good God who will take care of us, tis all my dependance for vain is the help of man, aduie my Love from your affectionate R. Revere”
That poor woman had had no idea just how vain her dependence on the help of man was.
Reading that letter depressed Ben. It spoke of a yearning between two people who couldn’t be together, and he was feeling something rather like that at the moment. Fuck, it was ridiculous just how much he missed Ryan.
Knowing that the feeling was mutual didn’t help. If anything, the first week had been almost intolerable, so hard to listen to the Ryan’s voice and hear that soft, unspoken plea in it and the wounded resignation of their goodbyes. Ryan wanted him to come to Boston, and Ben wanted to, he did, but he had no idea when he was going to be free to go there. Certainly not while he had this deadline looming over his head, and that wasn’t going to be resolved until Ben had a book proposal put together.
After the first couple of weeks Ryan stopped asking, and that made their conversations both easier and harder. Easier because they both seemed to relax a little bit, and harder because there was an undertone of melancholia in Ryan’s voice that Ben couldn’t help but hear, even when Ryan was deliberately trying to be cheerful. They kept up with the questions game, and upon learning that Ryan had never been to see a major league baseball game Ben was instantly tempted, so tempted, to tell Ryan that he would take him to one. Ben wasn’t all that into sports but going to a Rockies game with his grandfather had felt a bit like a rite of passage when he was a young man. He knew that Ryan had seen some of Brody’s college football games, but the spectacle wasn’t the same. But he didn’t say anything, because then the questions would be “When” and Ben didn’t have an answer for that yet.
Given how hectic his life was, Ben had been tempted to let his loose arrangement with Heather slide into oblivion, but she wasn’t having it. She lured Ben to the Starbucks where she worked as a manager with the promise of free coffee, then got his address out of him. A day later she showed up at his door after her shift, a six-pack of beer in one hand and her iPad in the other.
“Nice house,” she said when Ben opened the door. “I had no idea you were so swanky.”
“I’m not swanky,” Ben protested with a smile, letting her in. He’d been about two minutes away from banging his head into the keyboard and sending whatever came from that to Linda, so any distraction was a good one. “I inherited the house.”
“From your swanky relatives, I get it. You gonna let me in, or am I going to freeze my ass off on your front porch for a while?” She glanced back at her ass and grimaced. “Not that it couldn’t maybe use a little freezing, but I’d really rather not.”
“Yeah, of course, come in.” Ben stepped aside and let Heather into his house, and as he closed the door he realized that she was the first person other than himself to step foot in here in over a year. Jesus Christ, when had Ben become such a recluse?
“Wow,” Heather said, taking her coat off and draping it over the rack at the door while she looked around. “This place is huge. Nice chandelier.”
“Thanks.” It was a German crystal chandelier that his mother had picked up when they lived overseas, and while it didn’t really fit the turn-of-the-century style of the house, his mother had refused to let it sit in a box. “Would you like some coffee or something?”
“Dude.” Heather hoisted the six pack. “Beer.”
“And it’s not PBR or anything, don’t look at me like that. It’s a microbrew. Dark. Like drinking bread, if bread could make you drunk.”
“Right now I wouldn’t care if it was rotgut in a can, I’d drink it anyway,” Ben said truthfully. “I need to turn my brain off.” The proposal was going slowly, if by slowly he meant nowhere fast. Linda was on the phone to him at least twice a day to badger him, and Ryan was out with his roommates tonight and not available for the kind of long, easy conversation that would put Ben at ease.
“So c’mon, show me the living room already.”
“It’s not very impressive,” Ben warned as he walked further back into the house. “I don’t have a television.”
“Meh, TV.” Heather waved a hand dismissively. “We can watch on the iPad, I just want to see more of your home.”
Ben ended up giving her the ten cent tour. She was mostly quiet until they got to the library, at which point her eyes nearly bulged out of her head. “Holy shit! It’s like a museum in here!”
“Yeah, it sort of is,” Ben agreed.
Heather walked over to the glass case and looked down at the letters. “So these were written by Benjamin Franklin?”
“Damn. Is there, like, an alarm on this case? If I touch it, does it automatically call the police?” She glanced around with renewed interest. “Do you have lasers in here?”
“Like in the movies. When you leave they spring up and make it almost impossible for a thief to navigate the room unless they’re wicked good at breakdancing or rappel down from the ceiling.”
“Sorry, no lasers,” Ben chuckled.
“Still, it’s pretty impressive.” Heather looked at him and grinned. “What’s your boyfriend think of this place?”
Aaand hello guilt. “I haven’t had him here yet.”
Thankfully Heather knew when not to push. “So, are we watching this or not?”
The curl of anxiety in Ben’s stomach melted away. “Sure. Let me go get a bottle opener.”
“Pssht, bottle openers are for pussies.” Heather pulled out one of the bottles of beer, stuck the cap between her back teeth and cracked it open. “Voila.” She handed it to Ben with a smile.
“Oh my god, you’re going to break your teeth.”
“Haven’t yet!” Heather said cheerfully, opening her own beer. “Come one—couch! Battlestar! Now!”
Watching Battlestar Galactica became a regular occurrence, Heather coming over at least a couple of times a week and parking herself on the couch whether Ben was freaking out over his book proposal or not. If he couldn’t pull himself away from his computer Heather didn’t mind; she’d watch the episodes by herself after setting a beer down next to Ben’s chair. More often than not he’d let himself get pulled away, though, and during the moments between episodes they got to know each other a little better.
Ben learned that Heather was the middle child in a pack of nine, a big blend of step-siblings and half-siblings and way too many parents for Ben to keep track of. Her oldest sister was a doctor, and the star of the family. Her youngest brother was still in elementary school, and Heather didn’t talk to her dad or his new wife because they didn’t like the fact that she had a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend.
“Not that I really have a girlfriend anymore,” Heather confessed after her third beer one night. “I haven’t heard from Sarah in over a month. I know she doesn’t have internet so I send her letters, but it’s been a while since I’ve gotten one back.” Her mouth twisted unhappily. “I offered to go and visit her and she told me not to. She said I wouldn’t like it and that I couldn’t afford it. I told her I didn’t care, I’d burn through all my credit cards if I had to, but Sarah…well, fuck it, whatever.”
“How often do you write her?”
Heather sighed. “Every week.”
She ended up drinking the rest of the six pack that night and slept sacked out on Ben’s couch.
One night that Heather came over, neither of them were really that into watching episodes. Ben had settled, reluctantly, on covert correspondence during the Revolutionary War for his topic and was doing his best to write out a decent proposal for it. He had one week left until his deadline but couldn’t take another day without having something ready to shut Linda’s mouth. And they were up to the part of the series that Heather didn’t really care for, when Starbuck died and came back and left a whole lot of questions.
“And they never get answered really satisfactorily,” she grumbled, playing Cut The Rope instead of watching the show. “Bullshit about angels and cylons and a whole bunch of crap. They never should have gotten into the theology stuff, I fuckin’ hate it.” She set down the iPad with a sigh. “Got something I can read?”
“You know where the library is,” Ben said.
“I mean something normal people read.”
“Hey, I’m normal.”
“No,” she replied. “You’re totally not, but that’s cool.” She wandered over to the desk and grabbed the copy of Janie and the Phantom that Ryan had sent Ben. “Can I read this?”
“Sure,” Ben said slowly, “but be careful with it. It’s signed.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “I won’t break the spine or get beer on it, I promise.” She took it back to the couch, kicked her feet up on the coffee table and settled in to read.
Thirty minutes later she grabbed the next volume. Then the next. Then the fourth. By the time midnight rolled around she was done with them, and looked stunned.
“What?” Ben asked tiredly. He was so sick of writing…
“Nothing, just…these are a hell of a love letter, Ben.”
Ben frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Oh come on,” Heather scoffed. “You can’t be serious. Mr. Writer Man can’t read the subtext?”
“What subtext?” Ben demanded. He was tired, his head ached and he wasn’t tracking very well tonight.
“Dude, this whole story. It’s like one big love letter to you. I was there for the panel where Ryan kind of outed you as the Phantom, you know. This story, Janie’s story, it’s not just the adventure of her going from the same old, same old into new kinds of challenges and danger, it’s about her search for what she really wants. And she knows what she wants, and it’s the Phantom. And that’s you, Ben. It’s totally a love letter.” Heather looked down at the cover and smiled. “Maybe that’s why so many people like reading it.”
Ben stared at Heather in silence, his brain sparking with revelations and new inspiration. He’d read Ryan’s stories a dozen times already, and when he twisted his perception just a little bit he could see where she was coming from. It wasn’t just that, though. It was the whole idea of a love letter. Love in times of strife, love that saw people through the difficult times…
The letter he’d been going to use as a reference for the book on spies, the one from Rachel Revere to her husband Paul, stood out from the other pieces of paper on Ben’s desk. He grabbed it up and reread it, then bounded out of his chair and headed into the library.
“Ben?” He heard Heather following behind him, asking him questions, but he couldn’t distract himself to answer right now. Where was his book on the Adams? Where, where—here. Ben opened it up and found the letter he was looking for.
“My Dearest Friend,
…should I draw you the picture of my Heart, it would be what I hope you still would Love; tho it contained nothing new; the early possession you obtained there; and the absolute power you have ever maintained over it; leaves not the smallest space unoccupied. I look back to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an indescribable pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time -- nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the Image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my Heart...”
It was perfect, it was poignant, it was exactly what Ben was looking for. His whole body flooded over with a sense of incredible relief, and he tilted his head back and laughed.
“So, how did you get on the crazy train, and can I join you?” Heather asked him with a grin.
“I’m not crazy,” Ben corrected. “I’m just…happy. I’ve got the perfect idea for my next book. And you’re a fucking genius, did you know that?”
“I didn’t do anything, man, thank Ryan,” Heather replied. “He’s the one who wrote a big mushy graphic novel about his big mushy love for you.”
“Oh, I plan on thanking him,” Ben assured her. In person.