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I Want to Understand You, I Study Your Obscure Language.

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October 1971 - New York

"For some reason, cats are usually addressed familiarly, though no cat has ever drunk Bruderschaft with anyone..”[1]

 

, that was the phrase that Benny Watts’s eyes were reading before something distracted him: the chess player was sprawled on his new sofa, situated in the living room of his apartment, reading one of his favorite books when he got sidetracked by something - or more precisely by someone.

It wasn’t the first time that it happened, he has to confess: it was two hours that his attention moved from the pages of his book to the figure seated in front of his dining table, now illuminated by the orange light of the New York’s winter sunset, who was studying one of his chess manuals that he had lent to her. He didn’t know why kept doing that, she wasn’t doing anything special or exceptional; and still he couldn’t help himself from observing her in secret, covered by the pages of The Master and Margarita, curious about her every movement.

He loved to study her as he was doing now: in silence - when she was unaware of being observed - 'cause, the chess player felt that it wasn’t the only moment that she appeared for what she really was.

Months had passed since when Benny and Beth, after years of unspoken feelings and secretly yearning for each other, had realized what they really felt for each other and had decided to stop pretending and trying to work the things out: trying to be sincere and doing all those things that they only dared to dream of and never said out loud.

In those 395 days

[2]

, the New Yorker had tried, at first unconsciously, to find a definition to the girl with whom he spent the nights - to summarize, in a way, all the aspects and emotions that he was feeling while looking at her. In the past three years, since Beth’s victory in Moscow, he had remained for a long time at the mercè of those feelings - unable to accept the real nature of his interest in the girl. But that was the past: now he wanted to understand, he wanted to give a name to those sensations.

Beth Harmon had many faces: one for every role that she had to play.

Every role demanded a specific version of Beth Harmon - as he discovered through the years - so that she could be at her best when she was in front of the others:

The Outstanding Player that everybody on the globe admired and venerated as some kind of alien creature came from another country: The Prodigé that had been able to rattle even the most stoic of the Soviets Grand Masters.

The Sophisticated Young Woman that loved to dress herself from head to toe with expensive and designed dresses, that liked to flaunt - always tastefully - her status, regardless of what the newspaper wrote about her and of the fact that a serious chess player would never dress so frivolously. A Cold Goddess that looked her opponent in the eyes without mercy, and that some women looked with pure envy, while some men admired in silence or with pure terror. Two sides of her that outsiders knew well and that Beth herself decided to build and fed carefully in the last years, as she was trying to create a symbol, a timeless idea of herself that will be alive on the people's minds even after she will be gone.

But in the end, all of these were a mere mirage.

Because Beth Harmon wasn’t only that: those things were only the scratching of the surface of the person that she really was.

It needed time and a lot of patience to understand that; but at the end, Benny - after months of study and observation - concluded that Beth Harmon - before to-be an Outstanding player, and ex Prodigè, a Sophisticated Young Woman and a Cold Goddess - was, indeed, a Cat.

A sinuous creature of the night; slender and agile - always attentive and in search of the perfect position or place for being herself - animal.

She didn't speak the language of human people, she had her own world - her own space; that she liked to share, at the right time, with people that she knew - that she decided - were deserving of her attention or consideration. She wasn't open, she didn't want to appear reachable or available to everyone: but at the same time, deep down, she wanted to be understood; she wanted people to waste time on her - show that they cared to know her.

As he realized, she didn't want to be one of the many girls that you meet across the street and that you forget as soon as you turn the corner: even if she would never admit it out loud.

It wasn't you that you chose to look at: it was Beth that decided that you're worthy - that you're ready - to do it.

This idea came to his mind gradually: he always felt that there was something animalistic about Beth's behavior while they were together, but he never was able to really give a name to that sensation, until that July.

Benny Watts always hated the summertime: he would do anything to not pass those three torrid months in his tiny apartment in Brooklyn, so he was quite happy when Beth asked him to reach her at her cool and enormous - for the New York’s standard - habitation in the South.

The only problem was that his girlfriend - a word that even now he felt strange to use - didn’t actually live alone: the other housemate that resided there, was in fact, a big and fat Persian cat named Louie. An unbearable ball of fur that Harry Beltik had gifted her some years before, and that now roomed around as if was the real owner of that mansion.

As one could guess, the two of them never get along together too much.

Still, during those weeks of forced coexistence with the animal, the chess player started to understand something about that creature: in a way, Louie really reassembled his owner.

In fact, Beth, as her cat Louie, didn't like to be approached or to be caressed: she liked to maintain a certain distance from the others, a range that could permit her to observe without being observed. A pedestal that consented her to be over everyone else and to be protected from the look of the others. She acknowledged any human being as an adversary: a danger or at times a prey. She had the tendency to analyze the people that she had in front of her as if they were some kind of chess problem: rational and systematic. Only when she finally believed that she succeeded in her task to define them, Beth finally chose her opening move.

For this reason, Benny knew that every caress - every soft kiss in the morning, given under the cover of his bed, were even more precious of any screaming or love bite that she gives him during sex: the desire that she showed in those moments were nothing compared of those little gestures of affection and tenderness under the soft morning sunlight. He knows that the moment that she decided to touch him, to brush his messy blond hair in the quietness of his sleep, she was choosing to be vulnerable: to leave any type of protection behind and be finally herself. To be finally Beth.

He has never seen her more naked than when she looked at him smiling and satisfied after they had reached the apex of pleasure. He never felt more valuable and worthy as in those moments.

The two of them had their own way to communicate; it was a spontaneous secret language that had developed during those five weeks of training that they had spent together in his apartment before her first tournament in Paris and that they continued to use and perfect in the further years, even without realizing.

It was so natural for them to do that: looking at each other and knowing that the other was thinking the same thing.

It was their way of being able to cut a small space for them during the many public events that they had to attend around the world: as two spies that were exchanging sensitive information, they cast to each other fleeting glances full of intimacy.

But, as was inevitable, this new stage of their relationship was unknown to the majority of the outside world. In the end, it was unthinkable for them to be discovered: they were two professional players, two competitors who played in the same league and so for the same titles.

It would be a scandal if the newspapers, especially the ones that disliked Beth, discovered that the two biggest enemies and contenders of the United States had a liaison together: they could even try to imply that most of their matches were programmed, or worse, that all Beth’s achievements were only a big scam. Beth’s public image would be seriously damaged by that.

These kinds of situations annoyed his partner tremendously: she couldn’t stand the fact that they had to hide in this way, as if they were some type of Soviet moles - as if they were doing something illegal.

Still, these didn’t stop her from distracting him while he was playing: Benny knew that she was doing it just for fun, for teasing him, but sometimes he really found it difficult to focus on the game in front of him, when he was aware of the kind of look that the red-haired girl was giving at him, during the rare occasion that she assisted in some of his matches.

In those moments he never tried to meet her gaze, too scared - and sometimes too ardent - to discover what it could provoke in him in the middle of an important game.

Beth really liked to do that: he loved to torture him with her feline looks, so full of sinful and unutterable thoughts about him, right in front of the clueless eyes of the presents, as it was nothing - as if the risk of being caught in the act of doing something so hazardous excited her.

In those moments, all Benny wanted to do was stop whatever he was doing and get up from his chair as fast as possible, just to walk towards her and take her away from there.

And he knew that it was the same for her: at this point the chess player had stopped keeping track of all the countless times that he found himself walking alone in one of the many empty hotels’ corridors and just for then, suddenly, feel the grip of a mysterious female hand pulling him by an arm and drag him in one of the many dark and small closets of the hallways, in the past months. Benny did not even waste time to ask what was happening - at the end he could recognize her perfume anywhere - and so, as soon the door closed behind him, he started to forcefully kiss her fleshy and red lips - who as his, were impatient to taste him - and doing other unspeakable things in the privacy of those small four walls.

They didn’t have to do that to have sex: Beth and Benny could have done whatever they wanted in the safety of their hotels' rooms, far from any possible threat, but they didn’t care.

They just wanted to feel the adrenaline and the fervor of doing something clandestine and prohibited; and even if this kind of condition didn’t always permit them to have the type of freedom that they dreamed of, he never really complained about it.

After all those years spent in pure agony thinking that Beth never loved him back, knowing that she did - being able to fill her long and slender fingers on his hair - even for some mere five minutes, it was enough for him.

Being able to see that kind of expression so full of desire for him - on Beth’s face, in the shadow, was more than enough for him.

Cause that was all he ever wanted, all he needed for being happy.

But surely, the moments that both preferred - and that they waited with impatience when they were abroad - were the ones that they spent in Benny’s basement; the three-room flat was part of one the historic buildings of Schermerhorn Street - situated in Downtown Brooklyn, near Cadman Plaza Park - immersed in the total chaos of city life.

And yet, police sirens and annoying neighborhoods aside, the two lovers discovered that the apartment was, with Beth’s surprise, a perfect place to pass the temperate months - that separated the tournament’s summer season from the beginning of the qualifications for the World Championship - in total tranquillity and concentration. The two chess players got a glimpse of it during their first training together - in the Autumn of ‘67 - and they had the final confirmation in those few last days together, that they both past studying and analyzing their every past match in the occasion of the Interzonal Tournament that will be held in Palma de Mallorca

that November. [3]

In addition at that and at the privileged position of the basement - situated quite near to the first subway station, which Beth often used to reach the center of Manhattan and the many shops of Fifth Avenue - those four walls, hidden under 6 meters of the ground, really gave them the kind of intimacy and relax that they needed: it was their comfort bubble, their happy place.

Beth and Benny loved to spend their days there: sometimes in the warmth of Benny’s covers while they talked about the just-ended USSR championship, drinking hot coffè and smoking some of their favorite cigarettes after having sex; or as now, in his living room - doing their own thing: Beth sitting religiously alone on poised the chair in front the kitchen table, playing and studying some of their old matches and writing some notes on the side of one the books that he lent to her, while he was laying peacefully on his new coach - that the chess player had brought only for Beth, who had thought that his apartment needed some furniture renovation - reading and sometimes looking at her slyly - observing her strange posture, the one that she was using when she was focused on something: exactly like a cat.

Again, like always, he tried to return to his book - that he abandoned at the three-hundredth page - starting to look with the corner with his eye, the last phrase that he was reading before of being distracted; but as soon he did that, and his brain started to register the words that followed - which were: ‘It seems to me that you’re not so much a cat...’ the master replied hesitantly.’) - his concentration failed again: maybe it was a sign, he stated. It wasn’t the right day to read.

After all, how was he supposed to do that when the person who was in front of him was dressed like that?

In fact, even if they were in the middle of October - with 13°C[4]

outside and no heating turned on - Beth: who was still absorbed by her game, unaware of what would happen to him, was wearing only a pair of light panties and a tight withe tank top - that adhered to her slender body completely, as a glove, highlighting her curves - leaving exposed at the plain sight (his sight) her long and sinuous legs, making it almost impossible for him doing anything but looking at her.

 

Benny was really tempted to interrupt that unbearable silence and reach her, just to get her attention and finally use that dining table for something more interesting than whatever she was doing alone.

 

He was about to do that when he saw with the corner of his eye Beth - getting up from that chair out of the blue after hours of intense study - approaching him on his spot in silence; crawling on her bare legs and lying down near him - placing her heavy head on his shoulder, while he still had The Master and Margarita on his hands.

 

 

 

At first, the chess player tried to remain still and not to pay attention to the delicate smell of vanilla that she emanated every time she caressed his neck with her hair: he was determined to not disturb her. After all, he said to himself, the red-haired girl didn’t seem to have any hidden purpose other than to rest a little after a long and tiring day of training: in fact, as soon as she arrived, the first thing that she did was just close her eyes - as if she was about to fall asleep. So he decided that he should leave her alone for the moment.

 

But as soon as that laudable intention crossed Benny’s mind, Beth, who in the meantime had remained in silence and stillness, started to embrace his torso with her slender arms - as if she was trying to warm up with his body - making vain every attempt from him to not lay his eyes on the roundness of her little breasts - so similar to the shape of a ripe grape, ready to be harvested and tasted - that she casually kept rubbing on him as if she wanted to torture him

 

As he did before, Benny tried to ignore the warm and pleasing sensation that the contact with her skin procured from him - and he really did: but every time that he tried to focus on his book Beth started to touch him, each time even more explicitly than before, making obvious that she didn’t come here to sleep: she was deliberately trying to sabotage every sense of self-control of him just for pure fun.

 

She was diabolic.

 

She kept going with her teasing-torment for a while, acting like a mischievous feline who was entertaining herself with a ball of yarn, until she finally started to shamelessly kiss his ear and his cheeks, and then his free hand - that was placed under her head - deciding to bring that new sport to another level; making her first move and starting the real match that she wanted to play with him.

 

Benny - who for all this time had kept an upstanding behavior - now in front of such a dirty trick like that, finally put down the book on the ground and started to finally look at her; completely aware that he didn't have any chance against her and the increasing pressure on his belly that her presence provoked to him.

 

If she wanted to play, he would join her with pleasure.

 

The chess player could sense the heaviness of her breath as he started to touch with his fingertips the edges of her humid lips, and how little by little, slowly, as he opened her mouth, the atmosphere around them changed.

 

He kept sticking his fingers smoothly on it and letting her suck them pleasantly; admiring her expression - so into it, so satisfied - full of eagerness and hunger for what would happen next. The increasing tension and the anticipation that was consuming him, since her arrival on that couch, completely exploded when Beth, finally - opening her eyes - looked directly at him; with a stare so straightforward and unveiled, that it made him completely speechless.

 

He wanted to print that image forever in his mind. Benny wanted to remember that glance for the rest of his life. Benny didn't waste any more time and with his right hand - the one with which he was holding the book that he was trying to read a moment before - started to slowly caress her inner thigh, making her shiver a little each time he got closer to her wet and warm cunt. In the meantime - as he was doing that - Beth's mouth started to suck his fingers even more vigorously; making some tiny little sounds of anticipation.

 

Beth’s slender torso started to go up and down quickly and heavily, under that tiny tank top, as he started to remove her panties - that by now totally were soaking wet - unveiling her vibrant and trembling sex. Benny could sense the frustration pervading her as she started to bite his fingers; as if she was scared and impatient at the same time at the thought of what was going to happen. And so, as a bee ready to land on a flower full of golden pollen, his right-hand fingertips started to penetrate, slowly and smoothly, the entrance of that red cave - so similar to a slice of mature fig - and to play with her little clit; so tiny and peachy, of the same shape of a pomegranate seed, making Beth finally explode in a groan of enjoyment. He continued with that hypnotic rhythm until the girl didn’t start to scream his name - each time louder as he kept adding all his fingers on her cunt - at the top of her laughs. Now Benny could feel her shivering not for the cold but for pure pleasure.

 

At this point, the chess player knew for sure that he was completely in control of her and her childish game; still, he didn’t feel as triumphal as he imagined.

 

He had a hold over her, yes - but at the same time, he felt tricked.

 

He was at the mercy of those big brown eyes that were looking at him with a desire and compliance that he had never seen before, making him powerful and weak at once: Beth, he realized, was using him for pleasuring herself, without giving anything to him - who at the contrary - was doing all the work.

 

Benny couldn’t let her keep doing this: he wanted to have fun too.

 

So, after minutes of delicious pain, the chess player finally decided to do something completely unexpected: at the precise moment when she was about to reach her long craved orgasm, without saying a word, Benny got up from the couch - leaving the girl alone and speechless - and with a huge sense of frustration and emptiness, caused by the sudden absence of the guy’s hands on her body.

 

The blonde guy took his time for observing what kind of mess they had made and to look directly in the face Beth, who at the moment was lying on that couch - brought in some vintage shop in Soho - half-naked, with her panties lowered to the ankles, her long legs spread and her sex still vibrant and quivering, waiting for him to finish what he started with his hand, while Beth, with her hair ruffled and the morbid cheeks burning for the outrage, looked at him furious; her big brown eyes, that before were so full of ecstasy, now were sharp like a knife, like the one that he often brings with him.

 

You bastard, what the...” those were the only words that she had been able to pronounce before she was stopped by him: before Beth could have the time to finish her sentence, Benny, without saying anything, got on top of her - pinning her body on the sofa with his weigh - and then starting to kiss her vehemently, as if he was possessed by some kind of hunger that he couldn’t hold. He held his partner’s head with his left hand, bringing it closer to his, while his tongue - that went deeply in the girl's mouth, making her moan in surprise - took over the place that just some moments before had been occupied by his fingers; performing a sensual and intense dance with Beth’s, until there came a point where the chess player, remained breathless - and shocked by his own eagerness - and started to shift his interest from the girl's lips, that by now had become purple, to her naked neck.

 

He stared at her white and pale skin with the same intensity of a predator looking for his next prey.

 

Benny could feel his partner's heartbeat increase monstrously as, little by little, his mouth approached the deep sulcus between her bosoms; making him turn on even more than before. Whetted by this new situation, the blonde guy decided to start to caress the girl's low abdomen - gently and slowly - with his right hand, still covered by her sweet fluid-like nectar; bringing Beth almost to the brink of madness.

 

She was burning - she was literally going on fire - as his fingers gradually started to go up on her torso - touching her like a musician who was playing his violin - and to uncover her pale skin from that light and superfluous tank top, till he reached her little and round breasts - that moved up and down frantically, like two appetizing ripe passion fruits, waiting to be eaten - that he started to feel under his fingers slowly, making Beth reach the maximum of human endurance as he started to lick the little hard nipples upon them as well.

 

“Take it off,” she said, gasping in despair, referring to his jeans - that were still on him - as if she hadn’t the force to speak, “Just take it off!

 

He didn’t say anything, instead, he kept assaulting her breast with the tip of his tongue, making her shiver evermore, up to a point that she couldn’t hold it anymore, and started to tinker with the zip of his pants by herself, in a desperate attempt to remove it off him.

 

Benny, please…

 

This time the chess player stopped: the sound of those words shook him up, as did the tone that she used - so hopeless - leaving behind any kind of dignity or decency: as if she just didn’t care to appear in control or anything.

 

As if she just wanted him inside of her.

 

Finally, Benny looked at her: Beth’s feline eyes stared at him, as she did before, but this time they weren't looking at him, but through him.

 

Everything about her - from how she started to scratch his back (now completely naked) , to the way she surrounded his hips with her long legs - revealed the true entity of her desperation and extreme pleasure.

 

The chess player took her trembling hands in his and finally - after taking a condom out of one of the pockets - freed himself from his last clothes, leaving his sharp and skinny hips naked and releasing his throbbing sex, that all along, as an inpatient colt, couldn’t stop himself from kicking inside his boxer.

 

At the sight of his hard cock - like an involuntary reflex - the girl started to spread her legs, as if she wanted to invite him to enter, as if she was giving him permission into her body, not as host - but as part of her.

 

Come,” she whispered, and at the sound of those four letters he didn’t waste more time and - as a honeybee with his sting - he started to plunge his sex inside of Beth.

 

The two of them had already had sex countless times before, and surely in more comfortable places than a tiny velvet sofà, but it never felt like this.

 

Their bodies kept moving up and down - in a crescendo of screaming and moaning, in unison - as if they were a single entity, plunging their hips each time more deeply on each other, humping their sweaty and trembling figures to consume themselves, to finally reach what they were searching for and that they were waiting from the beginning.

 

As soon they come together , exploding in an excess of pleasure and jouissance, the two lovers collapsed on each other, exhausted and breathless - still burning and trembling - with Benny’s limp still inside Beth’s sex, and their heavy heads resting on each other.

 

A strange silence fell upon the apartment, as the sky began to darken, leaving them in the dark, waiting for something to happen.

 

Benny, at first, thought that he should say something, but then he changed his mind as soon he felt Beth’s slender fingers brushing his messy and soaked hair. Instead, the blond man got up on his elbows and then took the heavy and sweaty head of Beth in his hands from the pillow couch - where it was lying - who looked at him half asleep and half awake.

 

Benny kept staring at her, in the same way he did before, and then, without saying anything he started to kiss it gently, as if he was a pilgrim coming to visit some kind of relic, as if she was holy.

 

Those were the words that he was searching for, he realized, as he kept touching her skin: the obscure language that he had been trying to learn.

 

He didn’t have to try to study her or summarize her as a chess opening, he just had to wait for her to come to him and reveal herself.

 

All he needed to know was present between her screams and her stares: and so - for a moment - he finally was able to understand her.

 

At one point, when they finally fell asleep, Benny heard a song’s melody coming from somewhere, outside - from one of his neighbor’s radios - singing a name that sounded more like a prophecy than a melody, filling the room with her name:

 

Layla