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Weekend Sniffles

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Beth Harmon was in New York, visiting for a few days - the weekend - before flying out home to Lexington. She had made an arrangement with a certain Benny Watts that they would spend some time together, go over some games, discuss what was new in their lives, she would complain that he still lives in that tragic excuse for an apartment, the usual drill.

But he wasn’t picking up his phone, so Beth couldn’t get a hold of him and ask if she still could come. Maybe he was on a last-minute trip somewhere and forgot to let her know. The rational part of her brain wouldn’t let her get worried before she had a good reason to. She called some friends.

“Hey, Hilton, it’s Beth. Do you know anything about Benny? He’s not picking up his phone.”

“You too, huh? Sometimes he likes to be alone and doesn’t pick up his phone. How long have you been trying to call him?”

Beth sighed. “Two days, give or take.”

Hilton let out a series of hums before answering. “That is strange. Maybe stop by his place and see what’s up with him?”

Beth did just that. After ending the call, she grabbed a handbag and headed to Benny’s apartment.

 

***

 

Benny felt it coming. He would feel exhausted after performing the simplest tasks, like getting out of bed or brushing his teeth. Then the soft itch in his throat appeared. Because it wasn’t too bad and he only felt it when swallowing, Benny ignored it. In less than 48 hours that itch turned into an irritating throat ache and a nagging cough began. In the back of his mind, he knew that he had probably caught a cold and should rest. When he woke up the next day, with a headache, a clogged-up nose, and a dry mouth, he cursed himself. He knew that if he had reserved two or three days for lying in bed, switched his apple juice for tea, he could’ve been fine in no time. The only option he had left was to suffer through it.

His bedroom had become his whole world and he ignored everything that happened outside it.

 

***

 

“Benny?” She called out when she entered the apartment. She was thankful that she and Benny had exchanged keys all those years ago, in case of an emergency.

The first thing that got her attention was how messy the apartment was. That was not typical for Benny. No matter how small his apartment was, he always made sure it was clean and tidy. Something about how he couldn’t afford such a small space to get cluttered. The kitchen was in a complete state of disarray. The dining table, which usually had a chessboard on it, was covered in empty coffee cups and half-eaten bowls of what looked like different soups. The counter was cluttered with empty soup cans and dirty dishes. She surveyed the rest of the apartment. Hey, he finally got a couch.

She turned around and her eyes landed on Benny’s bedroom. More importantly, Benny, lying in his bed curled up in a duvet. She stepped closer, making as little noise as possible, in case he was asleep. He was surrounded by boxes of tissues and there was an empty glass on his bedside table.

Out of nowhere he jerked awake and opened his eyes. They both froze when they noticed each other.

“Hi,” Beth said softly and waved her hand awkwardly.

“Beth.” His voice sounded stiff and… definitely not healthy. It only confirmed Beth’s worst thoughts. “What are you doing here?”

“I was supposed to come over, remember? You weren’t answering your phone and when I called Wexler, he told me to come here and check on you.”

“Oh.” Benny struggled to turn on his back. Not like it was that difficult, but it left him feeling more tired than it should have.

“You’re sick.” Beth crossed her arms over her chest.

He scoffed. “I’m fine. I just didn’t hear my phone, that’s all. You can go. Or, you can stay. Whichever you prefer.”

“So you’re telling me that you didn’t hear your phone for two days?”

He let out a hum as an answer and closed his eyes, trying to fall back asleep. He hoped that she would give up, but when he didn’t hear her walking away and leaving his apartment, he opened them again and looked at her. “Why are you still here?” He hated how the sickness made his New York accent thicker.

“How long have you been like this?”

He rolled his eyes. “Like what?”

“Sick.”

“I’m not sick. I’m just not having my best days. I’m fine.” He desperately wanted to have a sleeping mask, so he could put it on for dramatic effect.

“Have you been to the doctor’s yet?”

“I don’t need a doctor, I can take care of myself.”

Beth nodded sarcastically. “Hm, yes. Right now, with the stuffy red nose, bags under your eyes, and pale skin, you really are a textbook example of independence.”

She started collecting some of the tissues lying around, trying to clean up his bedroom a little bit, and carried them to the kitchen.

“What are you doing?”

“Jesus, Benny, I can’t leave you here like this, and I’m not going to.”

“The sentiment is appreciated, but you can still fuck off, I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Stop being a little bitch.” She didn’t like raising her voice at Benny, or anyone, but he was being unreasonable. “Have you eaten something today?”

“I had soup yesterday. There is still some in the bowl.”

“I’m not letting you eat leftover canned soup. What’s with all the coffee cups?”

“I felt exhausted and needed an energy boost.” He said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“That’s why you’re been gulping cup after cup like the world supply of coffee would be gone by tomorrow?”

“I’m not really in the mood for this. If you’re here just to make fun of me, you can see yourself out.” He lay on his side, his back to Beth, and buried his face in the pillow. 

“No, I came here for the weekend and I’m definitely staying here now. Do you have a fever?”

“How would I know? I don’t have a thermometer.” He paused for a second. He knew all too well the look Beth would give him if he turned to look at her. “I assume I do have a fever, yes.”

“Alright, I’ll run to the store and make you some proper food.”

Benny heard her leave the apartment, closing the door after her as he dozed off. Beth stopped by her hotel room and grabbed a few things for herself. Who knew how much time she’d spend in that apartment, a change of clothes couldn’t hurt. Then she needed to buy some ingredients for a chicken soup since Benny’s cabinets were permanently replenished. Along with that, she bought some tea and apple juice too. She wasn’t going to tell him that, though.

When she got back and cleaned the kitchen a little, she realized there was one crucial thing she forgot about. Benny’s kitchen, if you could call it that, was very… modest. If I manage to make soup on that hot plate, I will never complain about my kitchen being too small.

When Benny woke up, the smell of something homecooked hit his nose. He managed to sit up and even though his head spun a little, he tried to stand up. A trip to the bathroom and back seemed like a good way to stretch his legs.

“Whoa. What are you doing out of bed?” Beth appeared in the doorway, a wooden spoon in one hand.

“I’d like to use the bathroom?” He felt like a little kid in class, excusing himself to use the restroom.

“Oh, alright. Good to see you awake, the soup is finished, I’ll bring you some.”

“Thanks,” Benny uttered.

A few minutes later, he was back in his bed, sitting with his back against the wall and covers piled around his waist. He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds Beth was making in his kitchen. It made him realize he was not alone during these treacherous days and he was glad.

Beth knocked on his door softly, he opened his eyes and looked where the sound came from. “Are you going to complain again? I come in peace, bearing tea.” She raised the hand in which she held the cup and smiled.

He would’ve laughed, but the idea of a sudden coughing fit scared him. “Come in.”

Beth sat on the bed next to him and offered him the drink. He took the cup in both hands, absorbing the warmth of the liquid. He gave her a look before his lips touched the cup.

“Want to try it?” He offered the beverage to her.

“Benny, I know that the national championship is coming up and you’re my competition, but I wouldn’t try to poison you when you’re indisposed like this.”

He looked at his reflection in the liquid. “You’re saying you would if I was healthy?” As soon as Benny let out the words, he wished he hadn't. Beth seemed uneasy too at that moment. “I’m sorry, that was stupid and not funny at all. And I’m sorry for being an asshole earlier, I appreciate that you decided to stay here. I’m just not used to being sick and people taking care of me.”

“Hey, it’s okay, I get it. I can’t say I didn’t expect it.”

“I’ve really been a whiny bitch today, haven’t I?”

“Yes, you have. But you’re Benny Watts, it comes with the package.”

“So… we’re cool?”

“Of course.”

“Okay.” He diverted his attention to the tea again and took one small sip. When it hit his taste buds, he thought he might throw up.

“This is disgusting. What is it?” He pointed at the tea with his finger aggressively.

“It’s tea. It’s what people who don’t live on apple juice drink.”

He rolled his eyes. “What did you put in it?”

“It’s ginger tea, with squeezed lemon and honey,” Beth explained in a teacher-like tone.

He took another sip. Despite the awful taste, it seemed to have a soothing effect on his throat. “Well, that explains it, I hate ginger.”

It was Beth’s turn to roll her eyes. “Of course you do, you don’t like anything healthy.”

“Hey, that’s not true, I like you.”

She shook her head and left the room before he could see the blush on her cheeks. “Drink the whole thing, I’ll bring you the soup.”

“Beth?” He called after her and made her turn around. “Thank you.”

They both ate the soup, as Beth was getting hungry too. Benny in his bed and Beth on the couch. The apartment fell into an odd silence, so the two chess players filled the quiet with some chess, shouting chess moves at each other.

After some time, it got quiet on Benny’s end. Beth tiptoed to his bedroom to take a look at him and saw the blond asleep, curled up like a koala. Just like she had found him earlier that day. She went back to the couch and entertained herself with the latest issue of Chess Life and some boring theory that she knew, but wouldn’t hurt to revise. It wasn’t long before the sun had set and Beth felt her eyelids get heavy. She changed into her pajamas, turned off all the lights in the apartment, and when she finally made herself comfortable on the couch, she couldn’t stop herself from falling asleep.

She was awoken when she felt a blanket being draped over her. The apartment was dark, but she could make out Benny’s silhouette.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” She murmured.

“I was thirsty and came for a glass of water. I thought you’d have left, but then I saw you sleeping here and thought you might be cold.”

“I’m fine, Benny, but thanks. Go back to sleep.” She adjusted her position on the couch, taking the blanket into consideration.

“If you want, you can sleep in my bed? It’s warmer and big enough for both of us.” She contemplated the offer. Who was she kidding, the couch wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world and she would take any bed over any couch if given the chance.

“Okay.” In a series of wobbly movements, she got up from the couch and made her way to Benny’s bedroom, trying hard not to lose any of her sleepiness.

They climbed under the covers on opposite ends of the bed but ended up next to each other in the middle of it.

“I’m sorry.” She heard him say in his temporary nasal voice.

“What for?”

“I know we had plans for this weekend.”

She pulled herself up and Benny’s head fell into the crook of her neck. “That’s fine. Do you have any idea how worried I was? You weren’t answering anyone’s calls.”

“You were worried about me?”

“Of course I was.” She ran her fingers through his hair, which was sticky with sweat and clinging to his forehead. She still liked it, though.

He asked after a moment. “What if you get sick?”

“So be it.”

“I don’t want you to get sick. Clogged up nose feels terrible.”

Beth smiled at how concerned he was, it was kind of adorable. “I’ll be fine. Go to sleep.”

“‘Kay, good night, Beth.”

“Good night, Benny. I hope you feel better tomorrow.”

“I’ll try.”

Beth continued brushing his hair with her fingers until she was sure he was asleep. She thought about how Benny Watts - the chess-playing cowboy-pirate who carried a knife - could turn into the softest cuddle bug. She gave him one last kiss on his forehead before the sleep overtook her too.