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Four Responses to "I Miss You"

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He finds himself answering every phone call on the first ring, curses himself as he does. Pathetic, you’re pathetic. When it’s finally her voice on the other end, he feels a rush of something else that he stamps out with another self-scolding of you are pathetic. His world shouldn’t be stopping every time she calls.

The question wrests itself out before he can stop it. Are you, uh, coming to New York?” And she says no, casual and careless as they both usually are, and why is he like this, why does he care?

When she brushes him off and then has the audacity to ask him how he’s doing (maybe the first question she’s asked him about him in a while), he tries to say “good.” Usually he’s a superb bluffer but for some godforsaken reason, not right now.

“I’m managing,” Benny says. Then, the words claw heavily from his throat before his brain can stop them: “I miss you.” Her previous rejections have scratched him raw and bloody; this one has peeled him back to reveal words he never thought he’d say.

There are four ways Beth could’ve chosen to respond to when Benny said "I miss you”, six ways the conversations could have gone.

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-:- The first response -:-

“I miss you,” he says.

“I miss you, too.” She speaks like it’s an automated response, the way she’d move her lips to kiss Harry back. She exhales another breath of smoke in the hopes it clouds her head.

But Benny can tell, he can always tell. Benny laughs, a sharp bark that scrapes against Beth like a stone wall. “No, you don’t.”

He just said he missed her, wouldn’t it be natural to say it back? “What the fuck, Benny?”

“Don’t lie to me, Beth.” From New York, Benny knows he needed to say it once, that’s all, and then he’d be okay. He knows she can’t say it back, shouldn’t say it back, because that might change everything. So he shuts her down, in a way that’s a thousand times more painful than sure you do.

She hangs up the phone.

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-:- Rewind to “I miss you” for the second response -:-

“I miss you,” he says.

“You what?” she asks.

“Never mind.” Benny retreats. This isn’t what she wants. This isn’t what he needs to do.

“No, say it again.” Her voice is firm, the way it was when she said hmm, I want to try it, before she polished the floor with him and his friends, before they added sex into the mix, before he missed her. “Say it again and I might believe you.”

“No.” And he slams the phone down before she can say anything more.

He lights a cigarette. And in Kentucky, Beth takes another drag from hers.

-:- Rewind to “Say it again and I might believe you.” -:-

“Say it again and I might believe you,” Beth demands.

“Fine,” Benny swings his head toward the window, as he says it again. “I miss you, Beth.”

“You just miss having someone in your bed.”


“I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone else who can keep you company. Cleo around?”


“You only want people who win at chess, Benny. And I lost,” she says, voice hard.

“You lost one game, Beth. You don’t need to quit chess over it.”

“I’m not quitting. But what about the next game? Will you still want me in New York when I lose the next one?”

“You won’t.”

“But I could.”

“You’re not thinking straight.”

“Save it for the next great American prodigy, Benny. I can’t give you what you want.” Her humiliation is on full display, in photographs printed gleefully around the world. She pauses a moment before adding, aware that each word is a spike, “You can’t give me what I want, either.”

“What do you want?”

“What else do you have to teach me?”

“Is that what you want?” Is that all I am? “A teacher?”


Hurt bubbles inside him, and his questions pour like molten iron cast into a mold. “What do you think I want?” And when did you start thinking so little of me?

More silence. He’s not sure which infuriates him more: that she thinks all he wants is her body or that his mind and knowledge could be hers after five weeks.

All the questions he’s suppressed, he can’t stop now. “Do you only want people who can win at chess? And since I’ve lost, you don’t want me? Beth, what the hell?”

Beth starts to protest, but Benny ends the call.

He knows she’s wrong, that he can poke holes in every assumption she’s made about her and him and them. He could also go back over all her games, point out every mistake and missed opportunity, ones she’d wouldn’t have caught on her own just yet. That would show her.

But chess is more than winning, and he knows it’s a lesson she can only learn on her own.

Besides, he’s not sure whether he likes seeing his own egomania reflected back at him.

-:- Rewind to “Fine. I miss you, Beth.” -:-

“Fine,” Benny swings his head toward the window, as he says it again. “I miss you, Beth.”

“How do you know?”

“If I knew how or why, maybe I wouldn’t miss you so much,” he says, not bothering to hide his irritation at the confession. His vulnerability is going to break him, he hates it so much. “You promised to come back to New York.”

“You promised I would win.”

“I said you were the best there is. Even the best lose sometimes.”

Beth rolls her eyes, this is the last thing she needs to hear. “I don’t play chess to lose.”

“You think I don’t understand how it feels to lose? Or how sad it is that five weeks of training went wasted?”

His words hit her like a slap in the face. Wasted, as if those five weeks meant nothing beyond whether she won or lost. “I don’t want your sadness.”

“I wasn’t offering,” he says, voice like ice.

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-:- Rewind to “I miss you” for the third response -:-

“I miss you,” he says.

“Why should I care?” she asks, and she’s not sure where this bitter harpy speaking came from.

“You don’t have to,” he replies, and if Beth knew where her heart was, she knew it would crack at the tightness in his voice. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.”

“You sure you wouldn’t?” She remembers Cleo’s laugh as she toasted to “stupid men,” to Benny, who could never love anyone but himself.

“I’m self-absorbed, not selfish.”

She laughs, part genuinely, part spitefully, and she says, “I have something to tell you.” She pauses and glories in how much this is going to hurt him. Maybe then, he’ll understand what it feels like, how she feels, even if she can’t quite put words to it, the sharp edges cutting her insides. “I drank with Cleo in Paris. The night before my game with Borgov.”

Sure enough, it’s like the wind is knocked out of him. “Why?”

“She invited me. I wanted company.”

“And that’s why you nearly slept through your match with Borgov and were hungover the whole game.” It’s not a question.

Beth can hear her own pain reflected in his voice. It’s what she wanted, but she hates the reminder that he understands her in a way no one else does.

He asks quietly, “Is that all you did with her?”

With some remaining grace she didn’t know she had, she decides not to answer. It’s answer enough. “If the answer was no, would you still miss me?”

Benny hates that his answer is yes.

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-:- Rewind to “I miss you” for the fourth response -:-

“I miss you,” he says.

Beth hears his deep inhale, like he’s trying to suck back the air, as if that can take the words back. She can’t speak, and apparently neither can he. Her stomach drops and tries to furrow through the Lexington soil beneath the house’s foundation, and she feels something clench inside her as he works up a monotone to say “Study the - “

“I miss you, Benny.” She stumbles over the words, but in her memory conjures the comfort of sitting in the bar with him in Ohio, the feel of his face buried between her shoulder blades in New York, and as soon as she says it she knows it’s true. And frankly, she wants him to cut the chess talk; she doesn’t need it.

She coughs, and it’s like the smoke has dislodged from her chest, and she can breathe but also her head is spinning, because what the hell? Where does this leave them now?

“You just said you can’t come to New York,” he says, almost nonplussed.

“Come to Kentucky, if you want,” Beth says instead, the words leaving her more easily than she’s comfortable with. “The Kentucky State Championship is next week.”

“The state championship?” he repeats slowly. “I could come. For the state championship.”

He won’t be able to enter, he’s not a resident, but it doesn’t matter. She understands what he’s saying. Or hopes she does. “Please, Benny.” And please don’t leave right after, she adds silently. Instead she says: “I just finished most of the house, it’s habitable.”

“When do you want me there?”

“Whenever you can make it.”

“I can be there tomorrow.”

The phone call ends with both of their heads languishing with something they dare call hope. He cares for her, and she respects him, and he misses her, and she misses him, too.

Is it enough? It might just be.