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in my head, i play a supercut of us (all the magic we gave off, all the love we had and lost)

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+1

The night before Beth leaves for Paris, they go to bed early. She really should get some sleep; traveling can be tiring after all. But they’re not in bed for more than a few minutes before Benny’s reaching for her and she’s reaching for him.

At first, it’s all slow kisses and soft touches, neither seemingly ready for an end of any type, but as the night progresses, their touches turn more frantic, their kisses and touches marking each other in the rush. It goes all too fast anyway. The whole thing lasts a few hours, despite (or perhaps because of) Beth’s travel plans tomorrow.

After it’s all over, they lay there in silence. She can already feel that she’s going to be sore in the morning, the copious attention from Benny’s mouth and hands scattered across her body. For her part, she’s fairly certain there’s a trail of light scratches on his back from where she dug in.

It stretches between them, eerie and uncanny. True, Benny isn’t much of a talker in bed, but the quiet between them has never been so disquieting.

Neither brings up chess, or Paris, or Borgov. Beth lies on her back, watching him out of the corner of her eye, watches as his breathing settles into a steady, slow rhythm.

She expects him to bring up one of the topics any moment. He doesn’t, though he opens his mouth at one point as if to speak, but closes it before a sound can come out.

Finally, Benny flips over onto his side, facing her. “You should come back,” he says, his voice carefully neutral.

Come back? What does he mean by that? She hasn’t left, not yet. She turns the words over in her mind once more, before deciding that if she wants to know, she should just ask. It’s no use thinking up answers for him.

“What?”

He clears his throat. “You should come back. After Remy-Vallon, come back to New York.”

He’s asking you to come back. He wants you to come back, she allows herself to think, allows herself to infer. Something in her chest twists at the thought. For a moment, she lets herself imagine it, coming back after Paris, after defeating Borgov, after winning. More workman-like chess, yes, but also more Chinese takeout dinners, more movie theater trips to beat the heat, more caramel corn, more walks over the Queensboro Bridge, more department store trips. More Benny.

Come back to New York, he’d said. Not come back here, to this apartment with the air mattress but also the bed we now both sleep in. Not come back to me, and the thing in her chest twists further, and this time it’s a pang rather than twinge.

She can’t pretend that the idea of coming back to New York isn’t appealing. She loves the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, the anonymity and non-prodding neighbors. She likes the variety in food, in people. She likes the nice department stores and the niche little neighborhoods. It would be nice to come back to.

Besides, she’s mulling over semantics and she’s never cared for word-play. It doesn’t matter whether Benny said come back to New York or come back here or come back to me. It doesn’t. It all means the same.

Come back to New York, after she beats Borgov.

She’s put in so much work since she played him in Mexico, in these past few weeks. She can’t imagine not beating him. She can and will beat him. She won’t entertain the thought of another outcome.

She shakes her head slightly, at herself, but she doesn’t clarify when he fixes her with a questioning look.

“To train for Moscow,” he adds, the creases in his brow growing, his face starting to look like it does when he’s only a few moves from being checkmated. “It’s a bit of time away but four Soviet chess players is a lot.” She catches her own words repeated back to her, but her mind is too busy whirling to comment. It’s almost like a last minute surprise mate with a knight and rook. Just the type of move she delights in and the type that he’d lecture about not being able to rely on. But no, that’s her, not Benny. He is methodical, diligent, as committed to workman-like and grandmaster chess as anyone. He’s been thinking about this for a while, even if he’s just asking now, she decides.

He wants her to come back. To train for Moscow. With him.

Moscow is practically a year away.

She has a house in Lexington that she should be taking care of, but the house won’t fall down in her absence. It will still be there whenever she decides to go back. She hasn’t been gone that long, anyway. It’ll be just over seven weeks, once Paris ends. It can stand a few more. Many more, even.

She remembers when she told Harry he could stay with her. How she hadn’t really considered, in the moment, that she was basically asking a man to move in with her. She wonders now if Benny really has thought this through, or if he’s simply thinking about the best way to prepare her to beat four Soviet chess players, to claim some glory for American chess.

“Moscow is a long time away,” Beth echoes. She’s still lying on her back, eyes shifted sideways to watch Benny.

He’s mentioned that he wants to be her second in Moscow, but they haven’t talked about it too much. Going to Moscow will cost a lot, and she’s not sure where she’d get the money for both of them. Still, in the times she has thought about it, she hadn’t considered–hasn’t let herself consider–that it would mean being with Benny until then. It’s tempting and unnerving all at once.

His shrug confirms that he hasn’t thought too far into the future. About what will happen in five weeks, in a few months, in half a year, if she comes back. Can they really study together that long? What else will they do? Benny will still need to make the rent, go to poker games. She’ll have to at least check on the house eventually, settle some papers her lawyer mentioned on the phone a few weeks ago. Beth knows there’s more grandmaster chess than they can ever get through in a lifetime, but still, at some point, it has to be enough? Even Benny once admitted he got tired of it, sometimes.

“You haven’t packed your bags yet,” he remarks.

“I know,” she says, suddenly defensive. “I was waiting so I could pack everything at once.” The truth, really. She hadn’t wanted to pack everything today, only to have to add her nightclothes and today’s laundry and her toiletries in the morning.

It occurs to her that he probably thinks it will go on like it has: them playing chess out of the books, maybe playing a game or two of their own until he gets tired of being beat, sleeping together, going on as they have.

Does she want that?

It’s silent for a moment again, until the sound of soft snapping breaks it, Benny’s fingers moving almost of their own accord.

She’s gotten used to it, the near constant movements of his fingers. She doesn’t mind, the smooth rhythm of his fidgeting becoming just another thing in the background of her daily life. But now, the noise comforts her, blending in in an odd way with sirens and car horns and yelling pedestrians outside, and she realizes she’ll miss all these sounds.

And will she miss Benny?

She’s not sure how she feels about Benny, her brain and her heart and her stomach all turning into a frenzied, twisted knot when she tries to think about it too much.

She’s–she’s fond of him. Yes, that sounds right. She’s fond of him.

She only mindly dislikes his persistent questions and his sometimes overbearing know-it-all attitude. She doesn’t mind the near-constant snapping of his fingers or his tightly regimented training schedules that sometimes get derailed anyway. She likes playing against him and having sex with him. Yes, she’s fond of him.

And if she comes back, once she wins against Borgov, there will be no question that she’s not coming back as his trainee or mentee. No, if she comes back, she’ll come back as his equal, the two top American chess players studying together.

Finally, she turns to her side to face him. “Okay,” she says, only a little shakily.

“Okay?” The questioning tone of his voice brings back the clenched feeling in her chest but she pushes it aside once again.

“I’ll come back,” she says. He smiles then and it makes her heart pound and she feels a little lightheaded and she wants to say something more. Instead, she gives a weak smile back and turns over and away from him, hoping that he’ll take any redness in her face to be just another part of the afterglow.

“To train for Moscow,” she adds, all in a rush, before adding, “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” he says, reaching over and around her to turn off the light, and she just catches a smile on his face before it goes dark.

In the morning when she wakes, Benny is already up, as usual. She feels a brief sting of disappointment; she’d have liked to wake up before him, to commit to memory the relaxed features of his face, the steady rhythm of his bare chest, the way the morning light catches the golden strands of his hair. Her disappointment abates slightly when she remembers that she’ll be coming back in a week.

He’s already waiting with coffee when she exits the bedroom. He hands her a cup wordlessly and she nods in thanks, words seeming superfluous. After downing it quickly, she gets dressed and goes to pack her things.

She knows she should have packed earlier, last night, or even before that. But she’s put it off until the very last minute, as if it would somehow make her departure less real, or less imminent, at the very least. She’s not sure exactly why; yes, she’s nervous about Paris, but she’s also excited. But her flight doesn’t leave until the evening, so she has time.

She only has the one suitcase–the one that used to be Alma’s–with her and she can’t possibly fit all of the clothes she brought to Ohio, plus the new dresses she brought in New York.

She tries, anyway, arranging and rearranging the clothes in hopes she can make them fit. Benny watches her amusedly from his seat at the table, as she fiddles with the suitcase, trying to get it to close.

Finally, just as she’s sitting on the case to try to smush it down, he speaks. “You can leave some clothes here,” he tells her, looking into his coffee mug. “If you want.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” he says, with a shrug. “You’re coming back in a week anyway.” He says the last part hesitantly, almost as if he thinks she might have changed her mind in the past eight hours. She nods to confirm she hasn’t.

Any hint of concern is gone with his next words. “You can figure out how to stuff all your shit in a suitcase later.” He gives her a smug grin, all carelessness and arrogance, as if that will somehow get a rise out of her.

Beth feels something else rise in her throat instead, and it is–surprisingly–not irritation (or at least, not all annoyance). But whatever it is, she swallows it down and nods at him. “Thanks.”

Carefully, she picks out a few items of clothing to leave behind–some of her more casual clothes, ones she won’t need in Paris. A casual tee, her pleated skirt, her red jacket. She bought a new pink and white coat to wear on the plane and in Paris, anyway, one that’s much more fashionable. She leaves out a bulky brownish-yellowish cardigan that takes up far too much room. It’ll be cold in Paris, but she’ll buy a new sweater there. She makes sure her little gold case containing the Xanzolam is in its special compartment. She hasn’t needed them at all during her time in New York, but it doesn’t hurt to take them with her. Paris will be different, after all.

She’ll probably need to buy another suitcase in Paris–she plans to do a lot of shopping, but she’ll deal with that later. Right now, she just needs to make enough room to fit the few outfits she plans to bring to Paris.

Benny watches her all the while, silently sipping his coffee. At last, she’s made just enough room to fit everything. She goes to the sink to pack up her toiletries, deciding she’ll take a shower when she gets to the hotel later tonight; she’s looking forward to a luxurious bath in a nice tub.

As she’s gathering her toothbrush and paste, she looks into the cracked but still-serviceable mirror. On either side of her neck, just above both sides of her collarbone, are fading hickeys, the slight reddish-purplish only barely visible against her skin. Still, they’re noticeable enough and won’t fade for another couple of days. She’ll have to wear high-necked tops until then, at least.

Beth was right last night, as well. From getting dressed this morning, she knows a few new hickeys are forming along other parts of her body, along with a couple of fingerprint bruises from where he clutched her hip last night. Benny’s own neck and chest sports three blooming hickeys, hyper visible due to the robe he doesn’t bother tying. In the dirty mirror, she can just see that his body angled toward her, though she can’t quite make out what he’s looking at.

After, she takes the clothes she’s decided to leave here and goes to hang them in the closet. There’s much more space now that not all of her things are hanging up. She carefully places each item on a hanger, making sure to straighten each article, align each hanger exactly, as if centering the pieces on a chessboard.

Her clothes will definitely smell like Benny’s sandalwood, citrus, and bar soap blend when she gets back, but she doesn’t mind. She wonders if she can find a nice new perfume in France.

As she puts away the last piece of clothing, a hanger shoved toward the end of the closet catches her eye. Strips of silk dangle from the bare wire. Her headscarves. She reaches for the hanger, pulling it out to examine it. The scarves hardly take up any room; she could pack them. But she’s already shut her suitcase and despite her leaving some clothing behind, it’s still bursting at the seams. No, she doesn’t want to open it again. She could stuff them in her purse, that would be easy enough.

But what use will she have for them in Paris? Her hair has grown since she left for Ohio and she can now sport what she thinks is a fairly sophisticated cut, ends curled just above her shoulders. She doesn’t need to bring them with her. Paris will bring a chance to beat Borgov, and maybe, along with it, a chance for a new, more fashionable and elegant Beth.

Besides, they’ll be here in a week, anyway. She’s coming back.

So she carefully places the hanger back in the closet and shuts the door.

The rest of the day passes too slowly and too quickly, the creeping feeling of the appointed departure hour sneaking up on them.

Around lunchtime, Beth changes her mind and takes a shower anyway. It’ll be late when her flight gets in, and she’ll probably be tired. She’ll have to change back into the clothes she put on this morning, but it doesn’t bother her. It’ll be nice to be fresh on the plane.

She hears the front door close as she’s in the shower but doesn’t think much of it, supposes Benny went out for cigarettes. Just as she’s finished getting re-dressed, he comes back, bag of takeout food in hand.

“Lunch?” she asks.

He nods, heading to the chrome table and emptying the contents. Smells of ginger and sesame and just a hint of grease flood the apartment. Beth approaches as he fusses with the utensils before holding out a pair of chopsticks to her. She takes them and sits down at the table, going to open the paper takeout containers he’d placed on her side. The first container greets her with the mouth-watering sight of sesame chicken. She goes to open the second container, expecting rice or lo mein, but instead finds chicken potstickers.

Her favorite.

She swallows and looks at Benny, who’s digging into his food with a fork (he gave up trying to use chopsticks in front of her the very first week). He doesn’t say anything, so she doesn’t either, lets it go. She does savor every bite of the potstickers, the knowledge that she’ll be able to get them again in a week, not making them any less delicious.

Once they’ve had a few bites, she brings up the question of the Sicilian, a question they’ve been hotly debating ever since three weeks ago. They fall into a mostly easygoing, if topically difficult, conversation. There are a few times voices tense and tighten and Beth wonders if this will all end with an argument, after all. It doesn’t though, and he even offers her the extra fortune cookie in the bag, hand outstretched.

Her first one had been a dud, missing the little slips of paper that she’s come to enjoy reading, if only for entertainment. She’s tempted to open this one, if just to have something to do with her hands. But she’s already fairly full, she shouldn’t eat more–she probably shouldn’t have eaten as much as she did, since she’ll be flying in a few hours anyway. But she doesn’t want to leave it here either. So she tucks it into her purse, for the flight, or maybe even when she gets to Paris.

Soon after lunch, it’s time to head to the airport. Beth gives the apartment a once-over, like Alma used to do before they’d leave to or from a tournament, making sure they hadn’t forgotten anything. It feels a little odd to be doing it at Benny’s place, but what’s even more strange is that it only feels a little weird.

Once she’s satisfied she has everything she needs–for the week, anyway–she heads toward the door, stopping to put on her new pink and white coat. She turns to pick up her suitcase, only to find him standing behind her, her suitcase in hand. She assumes that he’s only picked it up for her–eager to get out the door–and so she goes to take it from him but he pulls back.

“I got it,” he says, casually. And it is a casual thing, she supposes. She’s seen men at hotels carry women’s bags and suitcases all the time. But, well, she didn’t think Benny was the type to do so. She’d hauled her own suitcase from the Ohio dorms to his car and then out again when they’d arrived in New York. True to his word, too, he’d made her carry her many bags back from Saks. She didn’t mind, didn’t expect anything different from him really.

Five weeks ago, she might have thought about the gesture for as long as she’d thought about Townes’ nice smile–not too long, that is, but longer than she gives most non-chess-related things. She would have tried to make more out of it than there was, just like she’d wanted with sex. Now, she just nods and bounds up the stairs to open the door, reminding herself to focus on the important task ahead of her.

She was confident of her ability to beat Borgov last night; still is fairly confident, but as she gets closer and closer to Paris, and it sinks in that the rematch she’s been waiting for will happen in just under a week, a sneaking feeling of doubt creeps up on her. She almost brings it up with Benny, hoping that he might be able to soothe any doubts of hers, work her confidence up again in a way only he has, but she refrains. He might know how it feels to lose to Borgov, but she’s not sure he knows how she feels, knows about the cowed feeling she gets when Borgov enters the room, when she’d sat down to play him. She’s not sure that Benny’s ever been afraid of anything in his life.

When they get to the car, he clears off the slew of parking tickets that have built up since he last drove it and goes to put her suitcase in the trunk. Beth climbs in and looks out the window at the street. Although it’s afternoon, it’s not too busy, a few pedestrians here and there. She can see Benny’s apartment building down the street. She thinks she could find it fairly easily now from anywhere in the city, as long as she was near a bus line or subway.

She checks her purse again, makes sure she has her passport and wallet. She still has a decent amount in traveler’s checks and she’ll bring home more from Paris. She’ll have to arrange her plane ticket back at the airport there; even when she’d had the vague idea that she’d be going back to Lexington (though she realizes now, she hadn’t thought much about it, had been so focused on Paris up until last night, she hadn’t really thought about what she would do after), she hadn’t bought a plane ticket back. She’d only bought her plane ticket to Paris a few weeks ago, after all. Ever since Mexico, she doesn’t like doing things too far in advance. Maybe that’s why she’s been putting off thinking about what comes after Paris.

Benny climbs in the car, plays with the gear shift, and then they’re off toward Kennedy Airport.

It’s quiet for a while, the city sounds that bleed through even the closed windows preventing them from falling into a complete silence. But Benny makes no effort to add anything. Beth is glad for it; she does not want to talk. He seems to understand, and she is grateful for it. It feels like one of those moments where she is with no one at all.

But eventually, she ends up reaching for the radio, fiddling with the knobs to find a good station. She lands on one that seems to play mostly music released within the past five years; music that she knows.

The announcer gives a brief weather report and then introduces the Kinks’ new single. It’s catchy enough, but the melody isn’t what catches her attention, it’s the name: “David Watts.” She smiles, even though she knows the surname is common enough. She’s reminded of the arthouse film they never did go see, “Watts on Eggs.” Maybe it’ll still be playing when she gets back. She should make a list of things she wants to do when she gets back–have Benny make one as well.

They don’t talk, and Beth keeps her eyes ahead of her and assumes that Benny does too, but at one point, she finds herself singing along to the radio. She doesn’t realize she’s doing it until Benny’s voice joins hers in harmony–or at least, what she thinks is harmony; she never did pay much attention to Ms. Lonsdale’s classes, preferring to sneak down to the basement or study Modern Chess Openings under the table. But that’s what got her here and she doesn’t regret it.

Benny’s voice is surprisingly calming and she realizes with a start that she’ll miss it in Paris, even if it’s just for one week. She thought she wouldn’t at all–she does get rather annoyed with his lectures at times. It would be nice to be able to call him from Paris, but international connections are prohibitively expensive. Besides, it’s just one week, she reminds herself. No time at all. And she’ll be so busy playing and preparing for games that she won’t have time. In her spare time, she plans to shop and to see Paris, anyway.

And while it might be nice to hear his voice, to talk to him, she’s not sure how helpful he would be. He’s been very helpful with all the workman-like chess and studying, but she’s more than in her element during a tournament. The Soviets have many virtues, but she’s not convinced that playing as a team is any particular strength. She’ll need to focus.

Finally, they arrive at Kennedy Airport and Benny navigates the many lanes to Air France. He pulls into a no-parking zone, idling the car. This time, Beth grabs her own suitcase, fighting off her disappointment that he won’t be able to really see her off.

“He’s not impossible,” he tells her through the open window as he hands her her purse. “You can beat him.”

She wonders if this is more of Benny’s unsolicited words of wisdom, or if he somehow picked up on her growing nervousness. She’s not quite sure whether it’s because she’s easy to read or it’s just easy for Benny to read her.

It probably doesn’t matter at this point. There’s no use faking bravado or projecting false confidence in front of him now. So Beth responds with a simple, “We’ll see.” She doesn’t want to get into this conversation right outside of the terminal. Beating the World Champion, they both know well enough, will be no easy feat.

Beating Borgov won’t be easy, but if she ever stood a chance, it’ll be in Paris. She hadn’t been prepared at all in Mexico; she probably wouldn’t have been ready right after the National Championship, even. She’ll admit that she was skeptical when Benny first offered to train her–she hadn’t been sure she’d stay more than a few days with him–but she realizes now that he’s given her the best chance to beat Borgov.

No, not chance, she reminds herself. She does not believe in fortune and luck. She will earn her win. All those afternoons of studying grandmaster chess will pay off. If they don’t, what was the point of the past five weeks? They have to.

“Thanks for the help,” she says honestly. Even if she’s moved past him now–she’s not sure he has much, if anything, left to teach her–she’s grateful.

She wants to say more; to thank him not only for the help, but for letting her stay with him, for the ride, for making her realize she’s good enough to beat Borgov. And she is. She is.

But the words die on her lips, drowned out with the sound of takeoffs, swallowed back down in a thick lump in her throat, settling clunkily in her stomach, the start of a growing ache she’s not sure how she’ll get rid of.

I’m coming back, she tells herself. It doesn’t make sense to thank him now. There will be plenty of time for that later; she needs to narrow her focus to the world of sixty-four squares.

But where does Benny belong, if not that world?

Again, she has to remind herself that such thoughts are for fortune cookies and philosophers and romantic movies. But not her. She is a chess player.

She is a chess player and she has a game against Vasily Borgov to win and then she will come back and study with Benny Watts for Moscow.

For his part, he’s as casually cool as ever, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and ignoring the honking cars behind him. “See you next week,” he tells her with a smile, any earlier hesitation about her plans gone.

She nods. There’s nothing more to say, really. She smiles and prepares to leave, taking one last look at him. Involuntarily, she commits his face to memory–the rare genuine smile, the hair that falls into his eyes, his lips that always seem to be just slightly open.

For a moment, she wants to lean in the window and kiss him.

Beth imagines doing it, imagines leaning in to kiss him before she goes, his hand reaching up to cradle her face, brushing aside her hair.

She almost does; there’s nothing stopping her; Benny wouldn’t do anything much, besides drive away, like he was always going to.

No, this is not the time for something more.

So she does what she was always going to do; she restrains herself, stepping back from the window.

“See you then,” she tells him.

Finally, Beth turns, looking toward the airport doors that will lead her to Paris. She’s going to Paris, to play in Remy-Vallon and she’s going to win. She’s going to win against Borgov. She will. And then she’ll come back to New York and its chicken potstickers and beautiful bridges and Benny. They’ll train for Moscow and this time, they’ll be equals.

As she walks away, she almost turns around again–wants to–but doesn’t. She’ll have plenty of time when she gets back, she decides. After all, this is just an adjournment.