Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Love Letters Post #37

Notes:  I’m a terrible person, I promise you sexytimes and then I have to work other people in and this thing gets even longer.  Next one, sexy, I swear.  This one brings Heather back into play, because I couldn’t get this close to the end of the story without her.  Still…close, guys!  So close!

Title: Love Letters


Part Thirty-Seven: Don’t Be That Way, Just Be Your Way




It turned out Ben didn’t spend Thanksgiving alone.  He had planned to, it was all settled, just him and a frozen turkey dinner because yes, sometimes Ben really was that unmotivated, but in the end he was surprised with good food and better company.

The food came from all over the place.  Ben had no clue how people got the idea that he didn’t eat—he ate every single day, even if sometimes it was nothing more complex than cold cereal and pizza.  On rare occasions he’d cook something huge and complex that he could freeze and eat from for weeks, but when he was in the middle of edits Ben couldn’t be bothered.  Linda knew that, and she’d started a tradition a few years ago of sending him care packages when he was in the throes of the second draft—never for the first draft, because, as Linda put it, she didn’t like to encourage sloth.  But second draft care packages were along the lines of giving a puppy a treat for good behavior, her way of encouraging Ben to take the time to be a real boy who could afford to take a break and eat some real food since he’d gotten the worst of his work out of the way.

The day before Thanksgiving, Ben opened the door to a harried-looking Whole Foods employee who was carrying two big bags.  “Delivery for Benjamin DeWitt,” he said, huffing a little under the weight of the bags.

“That’s me.”

“Awesome.”  A second later Ben found his arms full of paper sacks that were practically enough to bow his back.  “There you go, man.  No need to tip, the lady already did.  Happy Thanksgiving.”  He was gone in a moment, and Ben kicked the door shut with his foot and staggered to the kitchen, where he put the bags down and opened the card lying on top.

At least I didn’t have it delivered by singing telegram this time!  Eat up, Benjamin, you have to keep your strength up for the third round.

Happy Thanksgiving!


PS—there’s enough for two, just in case!

Well…huh.  It was a nice thought, even though Ben had no one to share it with.  He opened the bags to see what was inside. 

Sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, green beans and almonds, creamed onions, two different types of stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, a bag of rolls and a turkey that had to weigh at least fifteen pounds that was still warm from the oven.  Enough for two?  Was Linda used to feeding pro athletes?  Ben put the food into the fridge, taking a little stuffing and green beans for lunch, because why not?  No one would tell him no.  He sent Linda a quick text thanking her for the food, and figured that was the end of it.

Except it wasn’t, not quite.  Michael, who was naturally too busy to get Thanksgiving free, nevertheless sent Ben a gift certificate for a local restaurant that would be open for the holiday.  Ben even got a box full of homemade cookies from his father’s family.  Some of them were shaped like pumpkins while the rest were clearly cut from the imprint of a small child’s hand, and iced to look like turkeys.  They all had sprinkles, copious amounts of sprinkles, and pieces of candy corn that Ben was sure he’d break a tooth on they were so hard, but he appreciated the thought.

“It was Carly’s idea,” his father explained to him that evening when he called to say thank you.  “She made them for her class and insisted that we send some to you.  I’m glad they made it okay.”

“Yeah, the cookies are fine.  Why are they celebrating an American holiday in the schools up there?”

“They aren’t.  Last week was a cultural appreciation festival, and everyone had to pick something that wasn’t Canadian.  Carly chose Thanksgiving.  Her mom worked for hours on a pilgrim costume, and I was on snack duty.”

“She seems to like dressing up.”

“Budding actress, maybe.  She’s going to be a snowflake for the holiday play, and she’s already fretting about her outfit being sparkly enough.”

“Boys must be so much easier,” Ben said.  He knew he’d been a low-maintenance child and as close to independent as was possible for a teenager while still living in the same house as his mother.  No drama, no discussion, no fights or arguments.  Just two people living together and mostly staying out of each other’s way.  It was like the perfect roommate situation.

“These ones aren’t as easy as you’d think, between the sports and the injuries that go along with them.  And my girls have a certain charm.”  There was a moment of silence before his dad said, “I’m sorry, you know, that I wasn’t there when you were—”

“It isn’t a problem,” Ben interrupted, really, really not wanting to talk about it.  “I understand.”

“Sure, Ben.”  His father heaved a sigh that still sounded remorseful, and no.  Just no.

“I’ll talk to you later, okay?  Tell everyone I said hi.”

“I’ll do that, son.”

Ben hung up and stared at the phone.  Son.  It wasn’t a term he was used to having directed at him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted it to be.  Ben was done with playing a subordinate role to supposed authority figures, he had been for over a decade.  He wasn’t about to start again.

Except with Linda, but she didn’t count.  Linda was the evil queen of everything, and her power could not be denied.

The holiday’s biggest surprise came in the form of a knock on the door around two in the afternoon.  Ben was in the process of heating up his feast, and he really hoped it wasn’t another delivery person, because it was just mean to make them work on Thanksgiving.  But it wasn’t a delivery person, even though she was carrying things.

“Hi!” Heather said brightly.  She had a six-pack in one hand and a box of pizza in the other.  “I come bearing gifts.”

“What are you doing here?” Ben asked, stunned.  “I thought you were still in Capetown.”

“I got a deal on an early ticket and I was kind of done with that scene, so I decided to come back a little early.  And now I’m freezing my ass off on your doorstep, so…how about you let me in before the grease congeals on the pizza?”

“Oh fuck, right.”  Ben moved aside and Heather came in, just like she had up until her departure four months ago.  She walked straight into the kitchen, then stopped abruptly.

“Um…wait.  Am I interrupting something?  Are you having an actual, real, honest-to-God Thanksgiving dinner?”  She glanced at him and lowered her voice.  “Do you have a guy over?  Do I need to leave?”

“There’s no one else here,” Ben assured her.  “The food was a gift from my agent.  I was just going to eat it by myself, and there’s way too much for just one person, so it’s a good thing you’re here.”  He took the pizza and beer from her and set them on the counter so she could get out of her mittens and heavy coat.  “Actually, why are you here?”

“Dude, I just told you—”

“No, I know why you’re back in America, I just don’t know why you’re here instead of with your family.  Don’t you have a ludicrous number of siblings all anxious to see you?”

“Exactly,” Heather groaned.  “And they’ll bother me and ask me a million questions and my parents will smother me, and I’m just not ready for that.  I haven’t told them I’m back yet, and I won’t until tomorrow, if you’re willing to let me sleep on the couch.”

“It’s your couch, you know that,” Ben said.  “Let’s get some food and watch some Battlestar Galactica.”

“You are a god among men,” Heather enthused, grabbing a plate and loading it down with turkey.  “I haven’t been able to watch anything since my iPad mostly died last month—did you know you have to use a voltage regulator to keep your shit from blowing up over there?  Because I didn’t know until the damn thing actually started smoking, like literally, my iPad cord started to smoke.  I started crying, it was so depressing.”

“You can get a new one now that you’re back.”

“Eh,” she said, the verbal equivalent of a shrug, and went into the living room to set things up.

They settled into the couch like she’d never been gone, and ate in silence for a while as they watched “You Can’t Go Home Again,” Heather’s comfort episode when it came to BSG.  After the food was gone and they were kind of slumped together, Heather said, “It wasn’t what I expected.”

“What, Africa?”

“Yeah, Africa.  The trip in general.  I thought I’d be happy, you know, getting things off my mind and doing whatever I wanted and seeing the world.  And I was, sometimes.  Definitely had some adventures, and I don’t regret going.  But mostly I just missed home.  I really missed being here, and I missed my family, and I missed you.  I even missed work.”  Heather turned to look at Ben, and her eyes were a little shiny.  “I guess I’m really not meant to be with someone like Sarah, you know?  I’m not an intrepid explorer or an adventurer.  I’m not like that.”  She gestured toward the screen at Starbuck.  “I’m just me.”

“I like you this way,” Ben told her, completely honest.  “You don’t need to look to other people or other places to find meaning in your life, to be happy.  There’s nothing wrong with being happy with what you have.  I think that’s great.  I think you’re great.”

“Aww, you’re the best boyfriend a lesbian could have,” Heather cooed, deliberately breaking the mood.  Ben was grateful.

“And you make a lovely girlfriend.  Now shut up and watch the show.”

“Oh, fine.”  She stayed silent until the episode was over, then took a pull of her beer and said, “But seriously, you’re having Ryan over at Christmas, right?  I’ll give you some space.”

“I don’t think he’d know what to do with space at this point,” Ben said.  “And he’s not coming until the twenty-sixth.”  Ben still had no idea how Heather had wrangled information about Ryan out of him from half a world away, but she had a method for getting him to open up that basically revolved around being uncomfortably direct when she thought he was holding something back.  Ben appreciated the candor, even if he wasn’t always comfortable with the subject matter.  “You’re welcome to visit while he’s here.”

“Oh, I’m totally going to bug you guys while he’s here, don’t worry about that.  And you know Michael’s going to want some face time too, so don’t think you’re getting out of anything.  But I think you’ll need some space, too.  You like space.”

“I like company,” Ben protested.  “And Ryan loves being around people.”

Heather rolled her eyes.  “I’m thinking he’s going to love being around just you more.  You’ve hardly ever had any time alone together, and this is your second chance, right?  A fresh start, kind of?  You should begin as you mean to go on, and that means privacy.”

Ben stared at her for a moment, then said, “Since when do you read Charles Spurgeon?”

“Fuck off, I can make up poetic things without help!”  Neither of them moved for a long moment, then Heather said, “Okay, fine, I might have been googling motivational quotes and that one stuck a little.  And screw you for knowing who said it first, are you sure you don’t have a photographic memory?”


Heather left the next morning after a cold pizza breakfast, and November turned to December which turned to Christmas with startling rapidity.  Ben worked and went out with Michael and stayed in with Heather, had awkward but persistent conversations with his father that were slowly getting easier, and sent out more gifts that year than he ever had before.  He got pictures back from the recipients: all of his siblings holding up their gift cards to the camera (he didn’t know what they wanted, he’d just done what his dad had suggested and they seemed to like it), Molly and Joey with books Ryan had recommended (as well as another signed copy of his book that Molly wanted for her teacher, who was apparently over the moon at the mere thought of it), the big bouquets of flowers for Ryan’s mother and sister-in-law and a goofy picture of Ryan in all of his new winter gear, which Ben had decided on when Ryan mentioned he’d always wanted to try skiing.  Ben hadn’t been in years but he had always enjoyed it, and he figured it would make a good day trip while Ryan was here.

And then it was the day.  The Day.  It capitalized itself without Ben wanting it to, insistent in its importance even when Ben would have preferred it to be just another day.  His heart wouldn’t let it, though.  It wasn’t just another day, it was the first time Ben was going to see Ryan in six months, and he couldn’t help putting it up on something of a pedestal.  He knew he shouldn’t, but six months was a long time, and despite knowing that he’d done the right thing in breaking things off and then insisting they take it slow to start up again, Ben felt like he was going to jump out of his skin with restlessness.

He got to the airport two hours early, just in case the laws of physics bent enough to allow Ryan’s flight to warp space and time.  He paced the marble floor of the enormous arrivals area, leaving the few seats on the sides for the mothers.  The place was packed with people saying goodbye, since it was the day after the holiday, and Ben liked the bustle of it—no one was focusing on him, they were all too wrapped up in their own worlds to pay him any attention.  Except for the greeter in the cowboy hat, who just nodded with understanding and left him alone.

The notation next to Ryan’s flight finally switched from On time to Arrived, and Ben curled his hands against the metal gate that he and everyone else had to stand behind and waited anxiously for Ryan to show up.  The escalators brought up the next load of people—no Ryan.  Not in the one after that, or the one after that.  Ben was on the verge of going back to make sure the flight had actually arrived when he saw the bright blue hat he’d saddled Ryan with coming up the escalator.  Ben walked around the gate and met Ryan before he had time to do anything other than smile hello, and pulled him into a hug so fierce and relieved that Ben surprised himself.  It felt good to see Ryan.  It felt amazing to hold him, and to be held back so hard Ben felt his neck pop.

“Hey,” Ryan managed, just a little shaky.

“Hey,” Ben replied, pulling back just far enough to see Ryan’s face, and the incandescent smile he wore.  Ben wanted to taste that smile, he actually leaned in before Ryan looked to the side.

“We’re being recorded,” Ryan said softly.  Sure enough, there was a group of tweens with their phones out, wide-eyed and grinning behind the gate.  As soon as they realized they were being watched they scattered.

“Let’s get out of here,” Ben suggested.  “Do you have any luggage?”

“Nope, just my backpack.”


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Superstition 2013 Party

So somehow I managed to wrangle an invitation to a posh Halloween party this year.  A friend of mine from high school is our local congressman's partner, he and I reconnected and one thing led to another and my man and I ended up spending all of Saturday getting ready for the shindig, which was last night.  A chartered bus took us out to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, which was filled with creepy mannequin tableaus and freaky projections and holograms, free booze, and vegan catering.  Yeah, vegan, because this is Boulder, people.

It was pretty fun.  The best part was putting our costumes together, really.  I mean, yeah, dancing, drinking, costume contest (my man got 2nd place and I feel he was robbed) are all good, but we worked hard on our outfits and enjoyed having the chance to display them unabashedly.

The theme for the party was superstitions.  I'm dressed up for the Day of the Dead and he is...a voodoo doll!  Complete with pins through the heart, and you have no idea how long we searched for just the right thing in the hardware store to stick the aluminum rods into that wouldn't be too bulky.  Hours.  Hooouuuurs.  He was on cloud 9, I was so bored.  The things we do for love.  Ah well, moving on.

People loved the makeup, I got compliments on it all night, which--hah--I didn't even do, I left that to my man!  So talented.  PS, I have short blonde hair underneath the brunette look.  Even the guy who invited me didn't recognize me.

The guy on the right in this picture is the winner of the costume contest.  Fabulous, isn't he?  It was so much fun.  I love dressing up.  Next con that comes around, I'm going to cosplay the shit out of it.

So that was last night.  Good times!  Share your costumes with me, I'd love to see what other people are getting into this Halloween!  I'll probably resurrect this one on the actual holiday if we decide to go out, since we won't get trick or treaters up where we live.  And tonight, a haunted house.  Maybe two.  I love Halloween so much:)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

RL and Writing Updates

Hey there, darlins.

Life update!  Well, and writing--I know my Letters lovers don't think I'm slacking, and you've no idea how much I appreciate your sentiments, but there's something to be said for putting it out there so you can get some accountability going.  I've got my readerwife for that too, and she's the best, but I'll do this too; I like having something to look back on and bemoan.

Life parts first: I'm going to a ridiculously posh Halloween party this weekend.  I somehow got invited by an old friend I haven't really talked to in years, and it's just...whoa.  Luxurious.  The theme--yeah, this is a themed Halloween party, wtf is this craziness?--is superstition, so I'm dressing up as though for the Day of the Dead.  Skull makeup, big hair, red and black corset, the works.  My man's going as a voodoo doll.  There will be pictures, I assure you.

PS, these aren't us.  Obviously.  Wait for it. :)

Okay, writing stuff.  Love Letters is due to wrap up in the next few weeks, and after that comes Cody's story.  My sweetheart is going off to the Federation Military Academy on Olympus, where he will be a total teenager away from home for the first time.  I'm looking forward to writing this, guys.

Then it's NaNoWriMo, and I'm dedicating a few thousand words a day to the sequel to Cambion, which is going to be serialized next year.  This is probably the last serial novel I'll write, at least for this press: you guys are used to a weekly format, but I got a lot of complaints from readers/reviewers about the disconnectedness of a monthly serial.  Which, I mean, they knew it was going to be before they started reading, but I understand wanting it all there at your fingertips so you don't have to pine for it.  So, yeah.  Last serial novel.

I've got 40k left to go on my tricked out fantasy novel, which has illegal magic and evil carnivals and very unexpected shapeshifting and what I think is a really delightful love story.  I'm going to try and get the rough draft done in November.

I've got a coauthored f/f werewolf novel that I'm wrapping up this month.  Yeah, f/f.  Only my second time writing it with any dedication, but I'm liking it.  Because, y'know, girls are awesome.

I've got the sequel to You Get Full Credit For Being Alive to write, which will probably take me about a month if I dedicate, and will have to be done in the new year.

Those are the set ones.  I've also got a few short stories for anthologies I'd like to do, have a f/f historical romance set in Venice that I've wanted to write forever, a kind of dark sci-fi fic that's calling to me, and possibly--maybe--perhaps--another contemporary.  And that's just the LGBTQ stuff, it doesn't even count the near sci-fi romance I want to get done before next September rolls around.  So.  This is what my head is like, darlings.  I get copious ideas, I play them out, string them along, act all coy with them...it takes a while to get me to dedicate, but once I do I tend to get things done.

Plus holidays and family stuff!  I'm going to California for Thanksgiving this November, and probably to Illinois for Christmas.  Yay, Chicago in the wintertime.  I assume I should look forward to bitter coldness.

Okay, done.  Done!  Thanks for bearing with me.  Happy Thursday, guys.

PS--oh-oh, and self-pubbing The Captain.  Gotta get that to my editor.  Yikes.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Love Letters Post #36

Notes:  Oh my god, we’re SO CLOSE!!!  I think one more regular post, then an epilogue, then a few Ryan POV scenes.  WHAT!?!  My brain can’t handle this.  I promise, there will be sexytimes in the next one too, I know you’ve all been without for months. 

My next post will be a list of all the stuff I have to work on, just so you all can see how I am absolutely not being a slacker.  Well, maybe a little bit.  But not really.  Also, this Saturday I am going to a very posh Halloween party—no idea how I finagled an invitation to this thing, it’s going to be amazing—and I will get pictures and show off my fabulous costume.  Me=excited right now.  Yay happiness!

Title: Love Letters


Part Thirty-Six: Clearing The Air






Ben had a naturally cynical nature by this point in his life, honed by years of unfulfilled expectations, familial disappointments and his own stubbornness.  He’d done the wanting and not having thing in so many different ways that by now that part of him was pretty well scarred over.  Ben was being careful with Ryan, and that was good—exasperatingly slow at times, definitely sexually frustrating, but still good.  If he sometimes let himself think bigger thoughts about the two of them, well, that was his prerogative, and honestly he didn’t think Ryan could throw anything else at him that could possibly top what had already happened.  There was something strangely comforting about knowing the worst a person had to offer already.  Ben accepted every interaction with Ryan with the all the pleasure they merited because he wasn’t worried about what might happen to him if he did. 

So if the texts started coming multiple times a day again, and the calls went from weekly to nightly, and from time to time they broke out their computers and watched the same movie simultaneously, it was fine.  Better than fine: it was the kind of warmth that started growing inside of Ben, the crumbled fortress of Ben’s faith in Ryan building back up, brick by brick.  It was slow and continuous and reciprocated, and Ben enjoyed the process of getting to know the person he loved again.

The thing was, Ben had trained himself to be so cynical at this point that he didn’t really know how to react when good things started to happen.  Or rather, he knew what he was supposed to do, but he actively stopped himself from doing it.  Like when his father sent him an email on Halloween of his three youngest children all dressed up in their costumes (Iron Man, some hockey player Ben didn’t recognize and Carly as a pumpkin patch—literally, she was an entire pumpkin patch, with a green outfit and dozens of plastic pumpkins glued on like oversized sequins) Ben’s first impulse was to think he was being taunted with his father’s new family, and he deleted it without hesitation.

When he told Ryan about it later that night, though, after Molly was long asleep and Joey was finally calmed down from his trick-or-treating sugar high, Ryan disagreed.  “He might have just sent it along because it’s an adorable picture,” he argued.  “Your dad’s never been petty enough to bug you with stuff like that before, right?”

“Right,” Ben reluctantly agreed.

“Then maybe he just wanted to share something nice with you.  Not as a ‘look-what-I-have-screw-you’ kind of thing, more like, ‘hey, here, be a part of this.’  Can you forward it to me?”

“You actually want to see it?”

“Do I want to see a five year old dressed up like a pumpkin patch?  Ah, that would be a resounding yes.  Cheryl took Joey trick-or-treating this year and Molly took over door duties, so I didn’t get to see nearly as many cute costumes as I’m used to.  In Boston the kids would work the apartment buildings in packs; it was kind of scary but completely awesome.”

“Okay, if you really want it.”  Ben dug the picture out of his trash and sent it along. 

A few moments later Ryan said, “Awww!  Oh my god, she is stupidly cute.  This is your sister?  What’s her name again?”


“What about the other two?”

“Jean and Michel.”

There was a moment’s pause.  “They’re boys, right?  I’m not trying to pigeonhole genders here, que sera sera, but they look like boys.”

Ben laughed a little.  “They’re boys.  Their mother is from Quebec, and she wanted them to have French names.  Carly is actually Caroline.  The oldest are Emmeline and Isabeau.”

Isabeau, really?”


“Wow.  Kind of makes you happy to just be Ben, doesn’t it?”

“By comparison, definitely,” Ben agreed.  They talked a little longer before hanging up, and after a bit of reflection, Ben decided to send a brief reply to his dad, just saying Thanks.  He never expected to get a reply.

Ben didn’t know how to have any sort of relationship with his father.  He’d gone without the man for so much of his life that he didn’t even know how to have a father, and Ryan couldn’t help with that.  So when he got an email a few days later with another picture, this one of Carly sacked out in her tattered costume, most of the pumpkins long gone and a huge, furry dog being used as her footrest with the caption, She likes it so much she hasn’t taken it off yet, Ben decided to treat it like he would a semi-professional conversation, sort of like what he had with Linda.  Gently mocking at times, but mostly serious.

She’ll give in eventually.  Tell her hello for me.

A few days later he got the next reply: You underestimate her tenacity.  She’s gone all week in it, her mother had to bribe her just to take a bath.  Reminds me of you as a kid, you hated baths.

That…was true, but Ben wasn’t about to have any heart-to-heart email conversations with his father about his childhood.  There was very little that could redeem that time in his life, as far as Ben was concerned, and memories about hating baths weren’t going to do it.  He didn’t bother sending a reply, no more emails came, and after a week Ben was convinced the brief show of interest was over and done with.  Then he got a card on his birthday.

It was an actual, physical card, with a $20 gift certificate to Starbucks in it and signatures from everyone in the new DeWitt family inside, even his father’s new wife.  Ben supposed she wasn’t new anymore, they’d been married for almost twenty years.

The gift was the kind of thing you got for someone when you had no idea what they liked, but Ben appreciated it all the same.  He’d use it once Heather got back and he had a reason to go to Starbucks.  The card had a cartoon picture of a generic superhero on the front, and the inside read, HOPE YOU HAVE A SUPER BIRTHDAY!!!  It was…it was an effort.  It was nice.  Ben smiled when he read it, smiled wider when he saw Carly had written her name with a purple sparkly pen.  For the first time Ben wished he had a mantle, just so he could do the traditional thing and put the card on it. 

Ben set the card up on his desktop instead, next to the postcard featuring a desiccated elephant’s foot from Heather (he had no idea where she found these things) and the sketch from Ryan of himself popping up out of a cake.  Naked.  It was kind of the perfect birthday card, as far as Ben was concerned.  Michael had had a lemon-chocolate-praline cupcake couriered over, because he was ridiculously busy but also excessive, and it had even come with a candle.  All together, it had been a pretty lovely birthday, even if Ben had spent it by himself.  Maybe…hearing from his dad was okay.  Maybe this wouldn’t come back to bite him, maybe it wouldn’t kill Ben to reach out a little.

A week later on Thanksgiving, he called his father.

The holiday wasn’t the same in Canada, of course, but Ben figured his dad was probably celebrating it anyway.  Unsurprisingly, Carly was the one who got to the phone first.

“Millander-DeWitt residence, this is Carly!”

“Hi Carly, this is Ben.”

“Ben!” she shrieked.  “Hi!  Did you get your birthday card?  Did you like it?”

“Yeah, I really did, thank you,” he said, moving the phone a little further from his ear.

“Daddy says you turned thirty-three this year.  That’s so old.  Old enough to be a daddy.  Why don’t you have any kids yet?”

“That’s enough of you,” Ben heard his father say in the background.  “Say bye to Ben and then give me the phone, honey.”

“Bye, Ben, here’s Daddy!”  There was a fumbling sound as the phone switched hands, and then his father was on the line.  “Ben,” he said, sounding a little out of breath.  “Hi.”

“Hi, Dad.”  Now that he had him on the phone, Ben wasn’t really sure what he wanted to say.  “I just wanted to say thanks, for the card.  And Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.  I hope you liked it.”

“I did.”

“Great.”  The silence stretched out for a while, and Ben felt his face redden.  “So, uh,” his father finally said, “What are you doing for the holiday?”

“Working, actually.  I’ve got a lot of edits to get through before my latest book is ready for publication, so…yeah.”

“You’re not spending Thanksgiving with friends?”

“They’re all busy or away,” Ben said, and there was no mistaking his dad’s deep sigh as anything other than guilty.  “But I don’t mind.  I’m used to it.”  He could have smacked himself a second later, when he realized that he was just grinding the guilt in a little deeper.  “Sorry.  I meant to say, I’m fine.  Really good.”

“Really?” his dad asked, a little sarcastically.  “Because spending a holiday by yourself doesn’t quite fall into my definition of ‘fine.’”

Ben just made a non-committal noise.  He wasn’t about to get into an argument with his father, of all people, about his life.  His dad seemed to realize this, took a deep breath and a step back.  “So, how’re the edits coming, then?”

“They’re good.”  They talked a little more about writing, then some about his dad’s work, and it actually got easy after a little while.  When Ben mentioned some of the letters he’d used in his research, his dad actually laughed.

“Oh, god, speaking of letters…do you still have all of your grandfather’s papers?  The Franklin ones?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“All under lock and key, I guess.”

“Same as they’ve always been,” Ben agreed.

“Except they weren’t,” his dad said.  “Back when your mother and I were first married—actually, this is kind of a funny story.  We got married, and we agreed to delay our honeymoon until the winter break, so we didn’t have to take time off from school.  Only your grandfather was planning a business trip over the break, and he hadn’t had the new alarm system for the papers installed yet, and he was too paranoid to leave them in the house without someone to guard them.  So he convinced your mother to cancel our honeymoon so we could spend the break babysitting those papers instead.  God, she took it so seriously…it was a big relief for all of us once they were finally locked away.”

“You cancelled your honeymoon?”  Ben had never heard this story before.  His mother had never, ever talked about what went on between her and his dad before Ben had come along.

“For those damn papers, yeah.  I understand how unique and important they are, my family’s got some heirlooms along the same line, but I’d never realized just how much influence they had over Deborah and your grandfather until that moment.”

Neither had Ben.  He wasn’t afraid to leave his house for fear that someone would break in and rob him of his valuables, but he remembered how terribly careful his grandfather had been.  The old man had even refused to stay in the hospital after his first heart attack, insisting on coming back to the house and being with the things he’d built his life around.  He’d died two weeks later; the home health nurse had found him sitting in the leather chair in the library, a cold cup of coffee and his phone on the table next to him.  He’d pulled Ben’s number up, but he hadn’t dialed it.  Maybe he’d thought Ben wouldn’t answer.

Honestly, while Ben could admire the historical value of his family’s artifacts, he’d never really been inclined to study them himself.  Maybe it was because he’d so firmly been told not to touch as a child, but he’d always considered them off-limits.  He got dozens of letters of inquiry every year from historians and researchers, and like his grandfather, Ben had made it a habit of simply throwing them away.  Unlike his grandfather, Ben had no real reason for it other than habit.

Later that night, he went to the library and looked around.  There were the papers, there was the chair where his grandfather had died, and there were the stacked-up paintings that Ben had done his best to put out of sight and mind.  This room, this entire room was a sepulcher, a monument to two dead Benjamin Franklins, and Ben was suddenly tired of it.  Sick, fed up with it, wanted it all gone.  Holding onto the papers the way he had been was simply selfish, when there were interested people out there who he knew would kill to get their hands on the original documents.  Ben wasn’t going to do anything crazy like pile them all up and burn them, but he didn’t want to look at them anymore.

Ben made two calls the next day.  The first was to Calanthe, the librarian at the Boston Public Library who had been so careful with every letter she’d handled.  To say she was surprised to hear from him was an understatement, and when she realized what Ben was offering, her attitude went from surprised to dumbfounded.

“But…those…we…I need to sit down.”

“Deep breaths,” Ben advised over the phone as he heard her pull out a chair and fall into it.  “Don’t be afraid to put your head between your knees, I won’t tell.”

“I…you…oh my god.”  She caught her breath as best she could.  “The Franklin papers would be an amazing addition to any collection, of course, and we would certainly take the utmost care and precaution with them.  Are you…are you sure you want to do this, though?  Just give them away?  You could auction them for a lot of money, you know.”

“And then they’d go to a private collector,” Ben said.  “And never be seen by the public, which is the opposite of what I want.  People should have the chance to see these, to really study them if they want to, and I don’t need the money.  Everything is itemized, of course, and it’s all been authenticated multiple times.  I’ve got copies of all the paperwork and I’ll send it all to you so we can get moving on this.  Sound good?”

“It sounds like a dream come true,” Calanthe admitted.  “This kind of bequest comes along once in a lifetime, and for someone as prolific and reputable as Benjamin Franklin, I mean…it’s going to change the entire landscape of work about him.  Mr. DeWitt, you’re offering scholars a chance to get a whole new perspective on one of the founding fathers.  It’s an incredible gift.”

“That’s what I want for these papers,” Ben said.  “That, right there.  Interest and passion and appreciation.  Not a meaningless existence behind glass.  So, you’ll take them, then?”

“Of course we will!  I’ll email you the proper forms to get started.”

“And I’ll send you the authentication reports and the inventory list.”

“Thank you.  This really means a lot to us...to all of us, working here.”  She actually giggled.  “Oh my god, this is going to be such a big deal!  I’m just, I’m really excited.”

“Good,” Ben said with a smile.  “Me too.  I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Great, wonderful.  Thank you, so much.”


The second call Ben made was to Ryan.  It took five rings before Ryan picked up, and he sounded a little sleepy.  “Mmmhi.”

“Did I wake you up?”

“Just had leftovers for lunch, we’re all sleeping it off.  Turkey and tryptophan and…and pie.  So much pie.  My mother and Jasmine together are such enablers, it’s amazing I’m not huge yet.” 

“Whatever, you loved it.”

“I’d have loved it more if you were here,” Ryan teased him, and it said something that they could even bring up spending a family holiday together again.  In fact…

“What are you doing for New Year’s?”

“Huh?”  Ben heard Ryan push the lassitude away.  “For New Year’s?  This New Year’s?”

“Unless you want to wait until next year to see me,” Ben said.

“No no no, no!  Nothing!  I’ve got Christmas with the family but New Year’s is free, totally free.”

“Would you like to come out here and spend it with me?”  There was silence on the line for a moment.  “I know it’s going to be weird because of Brody, since it’ll be the first anniversary of his death, but I’d still really like to see you.”

“I’d love that,” Ryan said quietly.  “If you’re sure it’s fine.”

“I’m the one bringing it up, I’m pretty sure,” Ben told him.  He couldn’t think of anything he wanted more, actually.  “If you need help with the ticket—”

“No, I’ve absolutely got this.  People have been feeding off my literary angst, I can definitely afford to buy a plane ticket to come and see you.”


“Do you mind if I show up on the thirtieth instead of the thirty-first?”

Ben smiled into the phone.  “No, not at all.  Come as soon as you can.”

“Don’t tell me that if you don’t want to see me the day after Christmas, babe,” Ryan said, completely serious.

“Maybe I do.”

“Then that’s when I’ll be there.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Love Letters Post #35

Notes:  I spent last night, from when I got home from work to when I went to bed, pumping out and cleaning up a 300 gallon cistern after shock-chlorinating our well.  The mud inside was an inch deep, and I don’t think my man’s shop vac will ever be the same after this.  On the plus side, we might have potable water once the bleach dissipates, so…that was my Monday.  I hope yours was better.  More Love Letters!  I’m getting weirdly meta here, but it all makes sense in my headJ 

PS--I really wish I was a better artist, I’d love to be able to share the cover I describe like I see it in my head.  I’ll do a Janie and the Phantom pic at some point, even if it’s bad, and post it here. 

Title: Love Letters


Part Thirty-Five: A Phantom Quest





The package arrived about a week later, flat and rectangular and liberally covered with bubble wrap.  Ben opened it at his dining room table, picking hopelessly at the tape that surrounded the thing before he finally gave in and very carefully cut through the wrapping with a knife.  Inside it all was the newest issue of Janie and the Phantom.  It smelled delicious, like fresh ink, and Ben shut his eyes and just inhaled for a moment before pulling the book closer.  The cover was a painting of Janie from behind, silhouetted by a bright white light emerging from the cave in front of her.  All around was darkness, fangs and eyes gleaming in the shadows, but Janie had beaten through them with sword and shield, and finally reached her ultimate destination.

At least, Ben had thought it would be her ultimate destination.  Janie’s quest had begun with a nudge from the Phantom, and ever since then she’d been finding her way toward him, confronting and eventually conquering all sorts of mythological stumbling blocks on her journey.  It was a familiar path, the heroine confronting challenges from within and without to finally accomplish her goal, which Ben assumed was finding and freeing the Phantom from his cage of solitude.  Everything had been building to this, and Ben was ready to see Janie succeed.  He turned the pages slowly, recognizing some of the paintings from what he’d seen in Concord. 

Janie made her way through the labyrinth that surrounded the Phantom’s cage with the help of every piece of magic she’d acquired on her journey, using them up as she went.  Her shield protected her from the sleeping dragon’s firey breath, but she had to leave it wedged in his mouth to make it all the way across his lair.  Her sword pinned the Minotaur in place but didn’t kill him, and she had to leave it thrust through his chest to keep him from coming after her.  She used the last of Athena’s goodwill to help her answer a riddle from a sphinx, and her beautiful mechanical bird, into which she’d set the compass that had helped her escape from her dark and lifeless city in the first place, finally ran out of steam just outside the doorway to the Phantom’s cage.

Janie tried the door without much hope, but to her surprise it was unlocked.  She let herself in to the cage and inside it was a lake, and in the middle of the lake was a rock, and on that rock sat a man.  Ben remembered a painting like this, one that Ryan had been working on during Ben’s visit to Boston.  That one hadn’t had the peaceful feeling that this one did, though.  That one had been a study in isolation, while this one seemed more…companionable, if that word could really apply to a painting.

A boat was moored at the base of a small stone staircase beside the door, and Janie lowered herself into it and rowed out to the Phantom, almost drifting away when the images she saw in the lake distracted her.  There were hundreds of different faces and different lives, strange places and exotic creatures, and when she looked at them Janie could feel what they were going through, the pains and the loves and the challenges, and it was all she could do not to get lost in someone else’s life.

When she finally got to the Phantom, instead of looking triumphant, Janie seemed confused.  “I’m here to…to rescue you,” she said finally.

The Phantom looked amused.  “Are you sure about that?”

“No,” Janie confessed.  “I thought I was, but now I don’t know.  You led me here, though.  Isn’t this what you want?”

“I gave you a quest, Janie. You shaped it yourself.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You needed to be free from the chains that held you in stasis, unchanged and unhappy.  I gave you a way. It was you who decided to make me your quest, though.”

“Did I make a mistake?” Janie asked, fear evident on her face.

“That depends on whether or not you got anything out of your journey,” the Phantom said.  “Your quest was never really about reaching the end.  It was about everything you did along the way.  You’ve gained so much.”

“But now I’ve lost it all,” Janie protested.  “I had to leave everything I won behind in the labyrinth.”

“And yet here you stand with legs and arms and breath and a heartbeat,” the Phantom replied.  “It seems to me like you’ve still got the most important things.”

“But what am I supposed to do now?” Janie said.  “I thought I was supposed to save you!  I don’t know how to do this if you’re not going to be with me, and I don’t want to go back out there alone.  What happens next?”

“You aren’t asking the right questions yet,” the Phantom told her.  “You get three chances.  Ask, and I’ll answer.  By the end of them, you’ll know what the next step will be.”

Janie stared at him, serious and still a little afraid, clearly unsure of her next move.

And then it ended.  It…just ended.  Wait, what?

Ben was on the phone before he knew what he was doing.  “Hello?” Ryan asked cautiously.

“How could you end it like that?”

“Oh great, you got the book!” Ryan said.  “Wow, I didn’t think it would make you call, though.  Hi.”

“Hi.”  Now that he took a moment to collect himself, Ben realized how glad he was to hear Ryan’s voice.  “Thank you for sending it to me, I love it, but…the ending.  I thought for sure Janie’d be freeing the Phantom from his cage and they’d go on to Elysium together.”

“I thought so too at first, but then I realized that Elysium isn’t the place for them.  I’m not even sure that it exists.”

“But Janie’s been wanting to go there ever since book two.”

Ryan sighed.  “Yeah, I know.  Believe me, I’m getting all sorts of shit for this, but in the end I couldn’t do it the other way.  Riding off into the sunset just wasn’t the right move for Janie, or for the Phantom.  More than half of the feedback has been positive, mostly because fans know I’m going to have to write at least one more volume to tie everything up now, but there are plenty of people out there who feel…”  Ryan paused for a moment.  “—betrayed in every way, you horrible person,” he said, sounding as if he were reading from something.  “How dare you do this to us?  How could you lead your readers on like this?  If I don’t get an HEA I’m going to hunt you down and break your knees.”

“Holy shit,” Ben said faintly.  “That’s terrible.”

“Eh, it’s fandom, terrible sometimes goes with the territory,” Ryan replied, pretty much unperturbed.  “People who make threats are blocked from the forums and Jasmine keeps a list of them, just in case something actually happens.”

“And I thought the New York Times could be a harsh critic.”

Ryan laughed.  “Now you know.  I generally leave the social media monitoring to Jasmine, if I didn’t I’d go crazy reading reviews.  A few of these made her swear so bad that I had to check them out, though.  It’s only been out for a few weeks and it’s already my bestselling book, though, so I must be doing something right.”

“I like it,” Ben reassured him.  “I was surprised by it, but I think it’s more interesting than Janie getting her ending here.”

“Thanks,” Ryan replied, sounding a little shy.  “I’m glad you do.”

The silence that followed was just a little awkward, not bad considering they hadn’t talked in over three months.  They’d been texting steadily for the past week, but it was a different thing to hear Ryan’s voice in his ear.  “How’s your family?” Ben asked at last.

“They’re really good.  You know Molly and Joey are back in school, right?  Joey’s doing so much better now, it’s amazing.  Melissa got Uncle Bill to hand over the trust, and there’s a lot more in it than Mom thought, so that’s good.  Melissa’s also getting the new DA to look into allegations of fraud and intimidation concerning Bill’s law firm, which is even better.  Cheryl got back from the rehab clinic this week and she’s doing a lot better, going to AA meetings and volunteering to organize the police fundraiser this Halloween…it’s really good.  So much better.  Except Jasmine and I had to let our apartment go in Boston, but that’s okay.  Lennie and Grant are pregnant so they’re looking for something just for them and the baby now anyway.”

“Big changes,” Ben commented.  “So Jasmine’s still with you in Concord, then?”

“Yeah, she’s pretty much made herself at home.  I’d hand the phone over so she could say hi but she’s actually out on a date right now.”

“How long do you think you’ll stay there?” 

“Probably through Christmas,” Ryan said, and Ben was glad Ryan could actually give a time, even if it was distant.  It meant he was thinking about it, at least.  “After that, I’m not sure what I’ll do.”

“I have it on good authority that Africa is a great place to work through a personal crisis.”

“I hope I don’t have to go quite that far to work things out,” Ryan chuckled, and Ben found an offer for Ryan to come to Denver on the tip of his tongue.  He didn’t say it, although he desperately wanted to.  It was still too early. 

Instead he said, “Tell everyone hi from me, okay?”

“I will. So…is calling each other back on the books, then?”

“I’d say so,” Ben replied, trying not to sound too eager.  Calling Ryan had been a reflex, but not one he regretted.

“Then I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Good.”  Ben cleared his throat.  “So, as one of your voracious fans, I have to ask: what happens in the next book?”

“You’re just going to have to wait and see,” Ryan replied loftily, and hung up before Ben could grill him anymore.  He called right back, though.  “Bye.  I meant to say bye first,” he added sheepishly.

“Bye, then.”

“Bye.”  There was silence for a long moment, then Ryan laughed.  “Okay, I can’t be the one to hang up this time, I already feel like an idiot for the first time around.”

“Goodbye,” Ben said, then hung up the phone.  He set it aside and looked down at the last page of the book, then turned back to the beginning and started reading it all over.