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Homecoming

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Homecoming

Beth adjusts her sweater and crosses her knees to be more comfortable in her seat. She’s just finished up in Washington DC. She’s done with the farce and the photoshoot at the White House. Her time is her own again.

They offered to put her on a plane back to Lexington. Beth had declined. She had them drop her off at the bus station, instead.

She crosses her hands and puts them in her lap. She’s a little nervous, she thinks she really didn’t make the right choice. She should’ve just gone back to Kentucky.

No. that’s not true. It’s the right thing to do: she can’t stand not knowing. Still, she is very nervous.

She really needs a drink or her pills… her pills. The bus ride would just slip past in a hazy second, she wouldn’t even notice it. But she can’t. She won’t.

She didn’t cave in Russia, where she was alone and under an insane amount of pressure. She won’t give in now. She handled Moscow: going back to New York should be a piece of cake. She beat Borgov without her alcohol or her pills: she can face Benny without them too.

Jesus, this really shouldn’t be so hard.

It shouldn’t even compare, but it does. She’s in no way more nervous than she was 4 days ago in Moscow, she’s not even just as nervous, but it’s frighteningly close.

Still, she has to go. Not knowing is worse. She has to talk to him and she needs to do it soon, while everything is still fresh and her resolve is still strong, while the memory of missing him in Moskow is still so sharp.

She must talk to him because everything he did has to mean something. Just like it meant something that, even with Townes there, all she really wished for was having Benny by her side.

Townes told her it was all Benny’s idea. He told her all about how the former US Champion had reached out to a lot of people and Townes had been the one with the best shot at getting to Moskow in time.

Benny went to all that trouble and got everyone up to New York. He did all of that knowing it could all be pointless, if there wasn’t an adjournment.

He did it all anyway, just to have a chance to help her should she need it.

She had been able to walk in the room knowing she wasn’t alone. Borgov might have had his team of Russians, but she had a team too.

She flew to Moscow on her own, but she hadn’t been alone when it counted the most. Benny had seen to that.

All of that had to mean something. It had to. She needed to talk to him.

 

 

*****

 

 

She’s standing on the steps outside Benny’s door and she’s scared. It’s almost funny. She takes a deep breath and knocks.

It must take him less than a minute to open the door, it seems a lot longer than that.

“Why, hello Benny”. She says mimicking their first conversation in Ohio.

“Why, hello Beth”. He’s not smiling but his tone is light. It’s not a bad start.

He steps back to let her inside. “How was Russia?”

“Cold and very different. You were right: the places they play, the entire chess environment, it’s a whole other level”.

“Did you like it?”

She shrugs. “Yes and no. It was interesting and it was lonely”.

He doesn’t answer that. He doesn’t need to: they both know it was her own fault she felt lonely in Russia.

“Do you want some coffee?” She nods. “Cream and sugar, right?”

“Yes, thanks”. She’s startled he remembers.

Once they’re settled with their coffees, Benny sighs: “Why are you here Beth?”

“I wanted to see you”. She takes a deep breath and goes on.

“Benny, I beat Borgov 4 days ago. I beat the best player in the world. People have been celebrating me, I was invited to the White House. And it’s been nice, you know? Nice.”

Her tone is soft, but she’s speaking quickly, in a rush to get it all out. “It should be wonderful. No one had beaten him in over 5 years. I should be ecstatic, I should be enjoying all the celebration, I should be having a great, wonderful time. Instead it’s just nice. Do you know why?”.

She’s on a roll and doesn’t give him time to answer. “It’s because you weren’t there.”

She lets that hang in the air for a second and continues: “Now that the Borgov match is over all I worry about is how much I fucked up with you. All I worry about is if I managed to push you away, if it’s too late to apologize”.

Benny is staring at her. He’s wearing the same startled expression he had when she beat him in the Championship, when she let him trade queens. “I don’t know what to say, Beth”.

She understands. “Yeah, I know you don’t. I just… just let me finish, ok? We both like boundaries and distance and hate feeling exposed, but I think we need to put everything on the table, to be honest and open for once. I mean, I need to. You have every right not to want that.”

She pauses and takes another deep breath. “I don’t want to lose you. It doesn’t matter if we sleep together or not, if we are just friends or friends who have sex or something more.”

She shakes her head and drops her eyes down to stare at where her hands are resting on the table. She can’t look him in the eyes right now, she’s not that brave. “No that’s a lie. Of course it matters, but it matters less: I want you in my life. Everything else comes second”.

Beth gives herself a moment and then raises her eyes to meet his. Benny still looks shocked. It’s strange getting to see the emotion so clearly on his face. It’s something that happens rarely.

“Well… I really was not expecting that. I know I said it before, but you really attack like Alekhine. You go straight for the throat, Jesus”.

He passes a hand through that hair she likes so much, then he reaches across the table and drops it on top of her crossed ones.

“I really missed you, Beth”. He says softly, looking calm and controlled again, the way he always does when he plays. “I’d never met some like you before. You are a better chess player than I am, the best I’ve ever met, but that’s not why. It’s the way you see things, the way you think, the way your mind works. It’s the same way mine does. I know you and you know me. I’d never had that before”.

He's smiling at her now, the real honest smile that’s so rare to see him wear. “So, to answer your question: no, it’s not too late to apologize. And I don’t want to lose you either”.

The soft, nice smile is gone now. In its place, there’s a devious smirk. “But I would also like to keep sleeping with you”.

She rolls her eyes at that, but she’s grateful for the line. It makes the whole conversation a little less surreal.

She hadn’t expected him to be so honest, too. She didn’t really know what to expect, but honesty and this kind of openness certainly wasn’t it. So, she can’t help pushing it.

“As friends who have sex or as something more serious and, you know, committed?”

It’s fine either way, she can handle it and she’ll take what he’s willing to give. She just wants to know now, while they’re being honest about something other than chess.

He takes one of her hands in his and twines their fingers together. “I really don’t want you to walk away again, to go to Europe alone. Or even back to Kentucky, for that matter.”

She rolls her eyes again. “I have to go home some time, you know. I have a house to keep up”.

He raises an eyebrow. “I’m not saying not to go. I’m saying I want to come with you”. His eyes are burning hers now. “I always want to go with you”.

That’s it. That’s the feeling she’d been waiting for these past few days. The happiness, the excitement.

She gets up, walks around the small table and slides onto his lap, slipping her hands in his hair. “I suppose I can allow that”. She smiles against his lips.