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.
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.