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What Came Next

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The rain hit the pavement with a steady thrum, accompanied by the splashing from Benjamin’s shoes as he walked. Nowhere in particular was his destination, that didn’t matter today. Right now, the editor needed to get out of doors, get a breath of fresh air, breathe in whatever clarity he could before going back inside. 


Benjamin Park had messed up. Badly, in fact. That was a surprise to no one, and he walked with such an idle determination that one would have assumed he was on his way to do something important, perhaps regarding the mistakes in his past. Maybe he would arrive at the Stratford Family Paper Stand and make amends, or plead for forgiveness. Maybe he would go back to the office at the Sun and try to fix whatever he could.


But his feet took him elsewhere, he found. Past the paper stand, past the office, past the Sun, past everything that had once been of interest to a bright young editor who wanted to learn the ways of the printing press. Through the swarms of people lining the streets, the chatter from couples and the screaming, laughing children playing in the rain towards the park.


Those children had been him and the Stratfords, once. Rose, ever the leader, charging forward with a stick in her hand, followed by a laughing Samuel. The two of them were insatiable, unrelenting forces that took the world -- and Benjamin in it -- by storm. That was what he loved about them, really, and that was what brought him to sit at the park beneath a tree, looking out into the city with his mind running as fast as it could muster. 


He wanted those days back. When they were young and wild and didn’t care about the moon or telescopes or newspapers or staying off the streets. When all that was just something for the grown-ups to worry about. And yet, here Benjamin sat; A grown-up with a folded up newspaper in his hand, a childlike story written on the page. The ink was running from the rain, probably leaking off onto his hand, but he didn’t care. Not really. 


There was something else in his mind, though, something that he needed to do before all of this caved in on them. Before John Herschel decided to start glowing next. (Honestly, Benjamin still had no clue what the hell had gone on back at his apartment with Margaret, that was something for another day and several other drinks.)


And so, Benjamin stood, dropping the newspaper to the soggy ground, where it plopped with a wet “thwap” and rested. Without a second thought, he was walking again, walking to where he needed to go.


The rain didn’t let up, but Benjamin didn’t find himself caring. Not as he walked through the streets, not as he walked up a side street to Broadway, then turned to see the Stratford Family Paper Stand, standing proud against the torment of rain. It looked empty, but Benjamin knew better than to trust an outward appearance like that. The Stratfords were the best example of that, he found, and so Benjamin ducked around back, slipping into the stand.


“Stratfords?” Benjamin tried, to no response. Drat. He cleared his throat and tried again, but paused before the words left his mouth.


A letter behind the counter, tied with a yellow string. Benjamin was written on the envelope, scrawled in handwriting he knew belonged to the Stratford brother. Samuel had written him a letter, left it here, knowing he would find it- 


And, what could he do but reach for the letter, untying the yellow string and letting it fall to the floor, before opening the envelope and taking a slip of paper out.


A ticket. A boat ticket. A ticket for a boat, one headed out of New York, to new adventures. A new world, a new life, a new adventure. 


With the Stratfords. 


With John Herschel, who, as Benjamin read the letter, was supposedly hosting this expedition to learn the mysteries of life. 


With his friends.


Pack your bags. We’ll see you there. 


(P.S.: I forgive you.)


Your friend, 


Samuel Stratford.