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Hayfever

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'And I love you so
The people ask me how
How I've lived till now
I tell them I don't know

I guess they understand
How lonely life has been
But life began again
The day you took my hand' - Song Link

 

 

 

Beth didn’t know how her and Benny ended up in Ireland. They had agreed they wanted to travel more, to see the world beyond the chess board and explore places. And somehow, they ended up in the Emerald Isle much to Benny’s delight.

“My grandparents were immigrants from Ireland,” he explained on the plane over, looking out the window. “My grandfather only spoke Irish.”

“Can you speak Irish?”

“Bits and pieces, but he did teach me how to drink and gamble.”

“Not very good traits.”
“I’ve been doing alright with them,” he grinned, winking at Beth and then looking back out. “They used to say he was a Gypsy King, the cow-boy hat was his.” 

“Then how did they end up in America?”

“My granny was offered a job in Virginia, she wanted to go and he never would see her go by herself so he moved as well.”

“Do you miss your grandparents?”

“Sometimes,” he said in a tone that ended the conversation. Beth never pushed Benny to talk, just as he never forced her. She always listened though, and could piece together little snippets of his life; like his grandfather and father had both been gamblers, that his father died from debt, and that Benny was able to shuffled cards like a cassino clerk since he was five. 

She knew the holiday would be good for them. They’d rotated between conventions and invitational matches; everyone wanted to see the World Champion and Grand Master duo in action, doing speed rounds and recreating old matches (and usually afterwards neither could walk the next morning, but the press and federation didn’t need to know that). 

Benny had announced over breakfast he had bought tickets for them to go Cork, and from there they could travel, he was hiring a car for them and they would travel to B&B’s along the coast and mountains and finally see the sights of his homeland (Beth felt he was acting as if he was on a farewell tour with how dramatic he was being, but she just agreed anyway). 

And that was what they were doing, flying over the Atlantic ocean, on their way for a month-long holiday.


---


They had created a list of things they wanted to do. Beth wanted to go horse riding on the beach, growing up in Lexington she knew a thing or two and it had always been a dream to ride a horse along the shoreline. Benny naturally agreed, claiming it would get up more in touch with his roots.

He fell off before he even got on. His foot missed the stirrup and he landed on his back, bouncing straight up and grinning as he tried to get on. Sadly, it was not meant to be and so Benny watched from the sand dunes as Beth rode along the sea, the horse in the waves and the seagulls above. Benny kissed her hard when she had come back, red faced and wind swept, the taste of sea salt on her lips and the stick of horse sweat.

“Beautiful,” he whispered in her ear as he kissed her again and again. She never would tire of his kisses, everyone felt like the first. 

Benny had wanted to see historical sights, like Trinity Library and Queen Maeve's Grave (They had argued halfway up the mountain side and Beth sat down, completely refusing to move any further and making Benny complete the hike alone).

Towards their final few weeks, Benny decided they would do something romantic and visit Powerscourt Gardens. 

“It’s like the Versailles of Ireland,” Benny explained, reading his little tour handbook carefully, “They have winged horses. You like horses don’t you?”

“They’re called Pegasi, Benny.”
“Well, they’ve statues. And a pet cemetery, do you want to visit that?”

“I’ll pass.”

“And a Japanese Garden, there we’re doing a world tour,” he grinned, passing the book to Beth to take and she did have to admit, the pictures looked stunning, the grand statues, the Wicklow mountains in the backdrop and the walled gardens. She could only imagine how beautiful it would be to see in person.

It didn’t disappoint her. Beth looked at the grand house, a little breathless. The mountains loomed on the horizon, the soft song of a waterfall could be heard in the distance. Benny was smiling, his true smile when his eyes lit up as though he held the stars in his eyes and the world in his heart and she could only fall deeper in love with him.

How rare and beautiful he was. And how glorious. 

Beth took a breath, tears streaming down her face as she looked around her and then silently cursing. She was crying? She didn’t understand why.

And then, the sneezing started.

At first, it was a small one almost as though a hiccup. Benny laughed, nudging her but not letting go of her hand as they continued to walk the water feature. It was when she went into the walled garden that the sneezing and crying got worse.

“Beth I know it’s beautiful,” he whispered. “But I think crying is extreme.”
“I’m not… I’m not crying , you ass. It’s hayfever.”

“You’ve hayfever?”

“Yes!”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I… it hadn’t flared up in years. And now, God ,” a sneezing fit overcame her, vicious and fast. Benny quickly pulled out some tissues and held them to her nose as she sneezed. 

“Do you not have tablets?”

“I haven’t had it in years, Benny. I wasn’t prepared for this,” she hissed, tilting her head back. Her eyes were burning, tears streaming down her face.

She couldn’t help but laugh, shaking her head. “This is ridiculous.”

“I think the hayfevered look suits you,” he grinned, wiping her eyes tenderly. “What about our picnic?” 

“I’ll be fine.”

“Beth you look like you’re verging on hysterical with the amount of tears coming down your face right now.”

“Give me your sunglasses.”

“Why?”

“So I don’t look hysterical,” she breathed, Benny huffed and took his sunglasses off. She took them gratefully, putting them on then grinning up at him. 

“How do I look?”

“A billion bucks, kid,” he smiled, kissing her nose softly. 

At that moment, Beth once more was overcome with a sneezing fit and head butting Benny square on the nose. The other staggered back, hand flying to his nose.

“You broke my nose!”

“I didn’t break your nose, Benny. Jesus,” she had her own head tilted back, trying to control the tears and runny nose she had. Beth quickly glanced at Benny, one hand covering his nose which was running blood. 

What a mess they were, she thought. What an absolute mess.

“This is why we don’t go out,” Benny muttered. “The minute we leave chess, we are a disaster.”

“You’re the disaster here.”

“You’re the one that went out to visit a fucking botanic garden knowing you had hayfever and not taking tablets with you!”

“You brought me!” she looked at him, and then she began laughing. Once she started, she couldn’t stop. Benny was silent but soon joined in, shaking his head and wrapping his arms around her, going to kiss her but Beth quickly pushed his face away.

“I do not want to kiss you and your bloody nose.”

“What if I told you I was defending your honour?”

“I would roll my eyes because I know the truth.”

“The truth can be changed.”

“It’s a good story,” she said, “One to tell the kids. We can tell them when we visited Ireland together, I had a hay fever attack and head butted you.”

Benny was silent, then asking quietly. “Do you… do you want kids?”

“I think someday, yes. Why?”

“We never talked about it,” he said gently, looking at her. Beth stopped looking at the waterfall and turning to look at him fully now then her hands.

“I… I have a little dream,” she whispered. “A house, with a husband and kids. It’s stupid.”

“It's not stupid.”

“I don’t think I’d be a shit mother anyway,” Beth laughed, she hated exposing herself. She hated letting people into that tiny dream she kept under lock and key. But the dream came to her every night, where she married Benny and she had the life she always read about in the books. 

“Beth, you can be the greatest at anything you put your mind to,” he whispered back, taking her hand and squeezing. “I didn’t know you wanted kids.”

“I want to give someone what I didn’t have,” she said quickly, fidgeting and picking at dust that wasn’t there. “I want to give my child a good life. With nice clothes and friends, and tell them their lov-” her voice shook a moment with emotion. Perhaps there was a mixture of emotion and hayfever tears in her eyes now. “Tell them they’re loved.”

Benny didn’t let go of her hand, his free one still holding the blood of his own nose.

“I think that’s a lovely dream,” he whispered. 

Beth looked at him, truly looking at him. They had been together several years now. A constant dance of following the other to the ends of the earth with no questions asked. 

Beth loved him. 

The thought seized her heart tight, almost so much that her chest hurt.

“I love you,” she breathed. Benny went perfectly still, still holding his tissue to his nose to try and ease the bleeding. He cleared his throat.

“Don’t say something you’ll regret,” he answered.

“I love you,” she repeated, firmly. “You’re an ignorant bastard and cocky and annoying and frustrating good at chess and nice hair. And I love you.”

“Are you ready to call this love?”

“I- yes. I am. I am ready to call this love.”

Benny looked at her, taking her knuckles to his lips and kissing it gently. “I loved you for a long time, kid. I just didn’t want you to feel pressured to say it back. Had to be the right time, you know?”
“So sitting in a botanic garden was the right time?”

“Beth, I loved you when you beat Borgov. I loved you when you ditched your handler to go play chess. I love you too.”

She took a deep breath. Now she had said it, she didn’t want to stop. She wanted to scream it to the world, she loved Benny Watts. The Grand Master and the US Champion and he was her friend, her companion. 

She remembered once he had described her as the lighthouse in his storm. Well if Beth was his lighthouse then Benny was her harbour. The place she sought shelter when the storms battered her from all directions.

And she loved him. 

“I love you,” she whispered again. Benny chuckled gently, wrapping his arms around her waist to pull her closer to him and resting his chin on her shoulder.

“I love you too, Beth Harmon.” 

Her hay fever was not as bad, but her eyes still were itchy and Benny was still covered in blood. She was mildly caught by surprise when the park ranger came over, offering an awkward smile.

“Hi, guys. We just had a customer come to us and tell us to check in on you both. Miss is this man harassing you? They said they saw you head butting him and you were crying.”

“It was actually her harassing me,” Benny answered.

“Benny,” Beth hissed, elbowing him hard then smiling at the ranger. “Everything is fine here, sir. Thank you for your concern.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, still eyeing Benny wearily, who was doing the grin that Beth could only describe as a shit-eating grin. 

The cocky bastard. 

Beth let out another sneeze, sniffing and trying to remain composed to some extent. 

“Are you sure, Miss?”

“Yes, definitely, actually could you take a photo of us?” she asked, handing the ranger her camera. The ranger looked at them, confusion very clearly written on his face before doing as asked, taking the camera and quickly snapping a picture of the two of them. 

And, if one was to go into Beth Harmon and Benny Watts house twenty years later there was a framed picture above the fireplace of a bloody nosed Benny and a crying Beth sitting on a bench in the middle of Powerscourt, Ireland. It was always Benny’s favourite story to tell his grandchildren, with them all sat around him as he would hold the picture. 

“This is where your grandmother first told me she loved me,” he’d start with a grin, looking at the picture. “Now she hasn’t said it since.”

“Benny!” Beth would snap from her corner, but to the trained eye they could see the quirk of her lips as she tried to hide her smile. 

It was what they were. Dysfunctional, yet deeply and wholeheartedly in love with the other.