The first time Benny tells Beth that he loves her is when they are in Lexington for the holidays. They rotated between New York during peak season and for training then Lexington in off-seasons. The house needed some work after Beth not been there for months, the windows needed to be cleaned and the boxes of post needed answered. They fell into a steady system, both doing what they can then spending the night on the sofa and watching some movie (Benny watched the movie, Beth usually fell asleep as soon as the opening credits started).
Benny did like the house in Lexington, he liked how different it was. He wasn’t great with the quiet, but he found ways to keep busy. He discovered that he enjoyed woodwork, he enjoyed cooking. Beth worked through the boxes of post from admirers and funders and the odd letter from Borgov sending her his thoughts.
“Can’t believe you’re on a writing basis with Borgov,” Benny muttered over dinner.
“I need to phone him tomorrow.”
“You phone him?”
“Occasionally, just to catch up,” she said with a shrug then continuing to eat her pasta. Benny simply looked at her, the words bubbled in his chest. The urge to tell her he loved her, he loved how brilliantly her mind worked and how casual she was about being on this close with Vasily Borgov.
But they died before they ever left his mouth because now was not the right time.
They agreed it would be nice to have a party. Just a small gathering, nothing grand or exciting. No alcohol was served, only apple juice and coffees. Beth spent all morning baking while Benny set up the fairy lights outside the garden. Benny as a rule made sure to avoid stress. Nothing made him more stressed than a stressed Beth Harmon. Because that was when she became snappy when she became vicious.
So Benny ensured everything was smooth. He got the chairs and tables, got the blankets and the fire pit together and then helped Beth move the cakes out into the back garden. He saw the shakes, the way her hand trembled. It made him slip his hand into Beths and give her a quiet squeeze of comfort.
She returned it.
The urge bubbled again, wanting to tell her how he loved her. How he was proud, how he adored her.
How he loved her.
But the urge died once more as she stepped away and threw her arms around Townes who caught her with ease.
In the back of his mind, he remembered a distant conversation with Cleo, a drunken one. Cleo told him Beth loved Townes, and she still did.
Benny wanted to curse Cleo for telling Beth that he only loved himself because that wasn’t true. He didn’t only love himself, he loved Beth too.
Yes, they were together. Sure, it’d been almost a year and a half now, but Beth was the most beautiful person who never gave a single thing away. He didn’t know if the things she did was a hint, if when she left him one cigarette in her packet (She’d turn it upside down so he knew it was his). Was that love? When she would laugh so hard her whole face lit up at his dancing. Benny didn’t know.
He saw how she hugged Townes, how she didn’t want to let go. It made his heart feel unsure of how to beat.
“Don’t you look the picture of jolly?” Jolene mused, coming to stand next to Benny and extending a cigarette. “Hello, cowboy.”
“Hello, Jolene,” Benny took the cigarette, lighting it and exhaling slowly. “I’m fine.”
“I know that broody look anywhere. you’re brooding.”
“She hasn’t told you she loves you yet, has she?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Benny said quickly, taking another drag.
“Townes’ is gay, Benny.”
“He’s… he likes boys.”
“Loves him like a brother. He’s family to her. She loves him, yeah, but she hasn’t spent the last year and a half following him across the world without a question to play chess of all things,” she said with a roll of her eyes. God, men are clueless.”
“Alright, no need to be superior,” Benny muttered, watching as Beth spoke to Townes. She spoke with her hands, gesturing and trying to explain. Townes remained looking at the ground, nodding his head slowly. Occasionally he would add something in and she’d laugh. But she didn’t laugh with Townes as she laughed with Benny. He could see it now, how there was a shared knowledge with the other, respect. A communication that came with siblings.
“She’s in love with you, cowboy,” Jolene added once more before grabbing a drink. “I know it. Because I’ve to listen to the phone calls.”
Benny simply grinned at her.
The party had been a success, it had gotten even better when Benny produced his guitar and Beth perched on the armrest of his seat as he played for them. Beth's fingers aimlessly threaded through his hair as he plucked the strings. Soon, everyone left but they didn’t move from their places. Beth remained on his arm and Benny remained to play the guitar.
The words were there, waiting to be said. But when he tried too, nothing came out. Only silence.
“I think it’s time for bed,” Beth whispered, resting her chin on his head. Benny sighed softly, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her onto his lap, kissing her lips.
“Do you think so, Miss Harmon?”
“I do, Mr Watts.”
“Well, what the lady wants the lady will receive,” he grinned, throwing Beth over his shoulder. Beth screeched, her arms and legs thrashing to hit or kick him but Benny avoided them. He felt the familiar vibration of laughter from Beth. He felt her shoulders bouncing and the sound was like rain.
He threw her onto the bed, looking at her sprawled out in her jeans and blouse, her red hair everywhere on the white sheets. He leaned down to kiss her again, and then again.
Benny didn’t stop kissing her all night.
It was two days after the party that Benny told Beth he loved her. She had taken it upon herself to sort the flowers out, starting with weeding and then planting, trying to save whatever flowers were there. Benny had been dealing with phone calls all day, talking to shitty federation people. When he was eventually free, he stepped outside with two mugs of coffee and saw Beth wipe her forehead with her hand leaving a trail of dirt. Her clothes were covered in mud and dust, her face with the soft sheen of sweat, her cheeks red from working hard.
“I love you,” he breathed. Beth looked up at him, then looking at the garden.
“Would’ve done the garden sooner if that was what it took,” she murmured back, grinning at him over his shoulder and giving him one more kiss.
“I love you too, Benny Watts.”
The second time Benny told Beth he loved her, it had been a very long week. Painfully long because Benny was out of town, away from Beth, and she was having some R&R time. They had just toured the states, six months of playing everywhere. It had been hard, and it had been exhausting . They argued a lot, when the hotel rooms had no air-con and the view was of a car park they argued hard. They screamed at each other, because yes they loved each other but they clashed often. Their personalities exploded as they shouted and threw pillows and slammed doors.
Relationships were strange things in Bennys opinion because one minute they could go from yelling at how the other was being unfair to sitting next to each other on a balcony, smoking cigarettes and watching the sunset together. Dating Beth Harmon was no easy game, one had to be ready for the mental tennis and the sarcasm and the attitude.
He loved her, truly, but it was exhausting.
Beth was exhausted, she told him so every night. She told him how the press got on her nerves, how the questions were always so unfair.
“Why can’t they just respect me?” she whispered into his chest one night as she sat, face hidden. He knew what interview she was talking about. He felt his skin crawl from the memory. Benny sighed, pressing his head to hers. He wouldn’t forget it anytime soon. They had just played a speed round and then opened a panel for the press to ask questions, one reporter stood and had said.
“Mr Watts, as US Champion-”
“Former, US Champion. And co-Champion to Miss Harmon.”
“Sure, but as the US Champion-”
“See, I don’t know what's so confusing for you. I’m not the US Champion. I’m not the World Champion, it's the amazing woman sitting next to me. And I would thank you all to remember that, and that she’s done what no one else has,” he said firmly.
Beth had remained silent, but Benny could hear her grinding her teeth next to him. She hadn’t spoken when they returned to their rooms, when he undressed her and got her something more comfortable to wear and now they were here. With Beth pressed to his chest, not crying but asking why the press couldn’t respect her.
“I’m going to take a break, Benny,” she said quietly. “I need a break.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ve been thinking about designing clothes,” she answered softly. “But I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep going into a room and having everything I’ve done just be dismissed. Why are my achievements lesser to yours?”
“They aren’t, Beth. Believe me, they aren’t. I am proud-”
“I don’t want to hear it,” she said, sitting back and rubbing her face. “I don’t want to hear you’re proud of me. Because that’s not going to make the press out there acknowledge what I’ve achieved. That’s not going to make sitting in a room filled with men any less difficult. It doesn’t make knowing I am going in there looking like a pawn. Just a piece of wood for people to look at and not knowing what to do with,” she said, pulling her hair back and looking out the window. “I’m not giving it up, by the way. I’m not stopping chess. I just need to take a break because maybe when I was younger it didn’t annoy me, but now I can see it. It every look, in every question. I can see it. I can feel it. How they look at me, like I’m just there to be looked at.”
“Beth…” Benny took her hands away from her face, holding them in his and then kissing her palms. “Please,” he said quietly. He hated seeing her upset. And he knew this was eating at her, because she was no longer a skinny orphan from Kentucky. She was Beth Harmon, a woman in a man's world. She was Beth Harmon, striking and beautiful and dangerous as lighting.
She was everything the world feared, because she knew her self-worth. And she knew she did not belong in a kitchen.
And so, he agreed. It saddened him but he saw the purple bags under her eyes, she would stay in New York until he was finished with his press work before they would make a move somewhere for a holiday, perhaps France.
Benny sighed as he grabbed his bag, shaking a few more hands and smiling. They wanted a book, a book about Beth and Benny, together and how together they were taking the chess world by storm. He was glad to see the editor was female, because Benny knew if he went home and proposed an all male team for a book Beth would stab him.
So he made his way home, whistling quietly to himself as he unlocked the door. Having Beth in New York was strange, because he had to move apartments. And that was fun, until Benny moved above ground and actually had to see how terrible New York could be. And that was another issue, Beth was a strong willed woman. She knew what she wanted, and if she wanted ice cream at 4am, she would damn well go and get her ice cream at 4am in New York.
Benny nearly had a fit when he woke up and saw she wasn’t there. And nearly died when she returned with her ice cream.
“Why is this an issue?” she shouted.
“What if someone stabbed you? What if you got mugged?”
“Life is awfully boring if you waste your time on the what if’s, Benny.”
“You’re going to be the death of me.”
“I’ll wear something nice to the funeral then,” she had answered. And he was left speechless by her. Always, she always did this. She left him speechless.
The meeting was done. Benny couldn’t have been happier to see the backs of the team. Trying to get Beth to write about her childhood with something other than just bluntness was like trying to draw blood from a stone. More to the point, trying to get Beth to write about something other than chess was like trying to grow trees in the Sahara desert.
“It’s a book about my chess career, why do they need to know about Alma?”
“Because it gives them something to sympathise with.”
“I don’t want their sympathy. I want them to take me seriously.” And he knew there was no point in trying to argue.
Benny made his way back to the flat, humming quietly to himself as he opened the door to the new house.
“Beth?” he called, but was met with silence. This was strange, this was very strange.
“Beth? Where are you?” he called again, setting his keys in the bowl then walking through the house. He checked the living room, their bedroom, the kitchen. He did not expect to find her in the bathroom.
He did not expect Beth with green hair.
And hair dye everywhere .
“Shit, shit , Beth what have you done?”
“What do you mean what have I done?” she looked up, her eyes wide. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Have you not seen it yet?”
“No! I’ve been waiting for it to dry!”
This was perhaps the time, Benny thought, they should buy a mirror for their bathroom.
“Beth… your hair,” he said sadly. Her hair had been one of his favourite things about her. The flame red hair just seemed to fit her so perfectly. Now it was green .
“What’s wrong with my hair, Benny?”
“Darlin, you dyed it green.”
“What do you mean I dyed it green?”
“It’s green, Beth. Like, green . What colour did you think it was going to be?”
“I thought it said blonde.”
“You’ve to be truly blind to miss- oh, oh . Oh, Beth-”
“Don’t fucking start,” she snapped.
“It started in Miami, everything became blurry. I could make out the shapes of the chess pieces. But everything else, I’ve been just winging it.”
Miami had been two months ago. No wonder she had wanted a break, she couldn’t see. Benny rubbed his face, kneeling down slowly.
“And now you hate me because I’ve green hair. And I look like a sad… a sad frog.”
“You don’t look like a sad frog, Beth. Darlin, come on now.”
Benny was trying his utmost hardest not to laugh. Because she looked ridiculous with green hair, but she had buried her face in her hands and was sitting on the bathroom floor in New York. And her hair was green .
He wanted to laugh at how absurd this was, but he could see the genuine distress in her eyes and her voice.
He moved closer, gently prying her hands away from her face. “Let me see you, alright, alright,” he soothed, kissing her forehead then her nose. “You don’t look like a sad frog.”
“I feel like a sad frog.”
“I think you look rather cute.”
“Don’t be condescending.”
“Look, look it’s ok. I’ll get us a box of brown dye, and we can fix it,” he assured her, kissing her lips and then getting up, “I’ll be back, don’t move.”
And that was how Benny found himself holding a bowl of hair dye with Beth sitting on a toilet seat. He hadn’t done this in years, and surprised himself how well he remembered.
“In my defense, I was left alone,” Beth mumbled.
“Absolutely. I’m never leaving you alone again,” he muttered.
“How do you know about hair dye?”
“My mother was a hairdresser. I worked summers in her salon with all my cousins. I learned very quickly.”
“So you can do my hair?”
“What do you want? I can plait, perm, dye, or style.”
Beth hummed thoughtfully then shaking her head. “Nothing.”
“Alma always loved my hair.”
“It won’t go back to your natural shade, but I can get it as best it can,” he said softly. Beth looked at him then nodded.
“I love you, Beth,” he said softly. He did, truly. He loved the chaotic mess she was. He loved how fierce she was. “I’ll bring you to get your glasses tomorrow.”
There was a pause, a breath. “I love you too.”
Beth and Benny had always discussed in great detail children. Whether it was the wise thing to do, whether it was too early or too late. Beth hadn’t given an opinion as much as Benny would’ve liked. He knew the risk of having a child, he knew that there could be a relapse, there could be pain. He saw how she looked at kids though when they went out shopping together, or how she’d pause at little childrens clothes and then walk on with her head dipped down and looking annoyed at herself.
When he asked her, she just cried. Telling him how she wasn’t good enough to be a parent. She wasn’t good enough to raise a child well, and to give them everything they needed.
Benny’s heart ached a little. He held her, whispering that she was good enough at anything she put her mind to.
And so the trying began. And Benny never thought he’d say this but by the end of it, he was exhausted by sex. There was a difference between having sex and trying for a child. He could see Beth getting angrier and angrier every time the test came back negative. He felt it too, and she started getting herbs and teas that were meant to help.
It was draining him. But he kept going, because he knew at some point they had to get lucky. And they did when neither of them expected it. It had been during dinner, Beth had left to pee and then Benny heard her squeal, he spilt his drink over himself as he ran into the bathroom and saw her waving the pregnancy test at him.
Part of him was relieved he could have a break now from trying to conceive a child. But soon the pregnancy hormones kicked in, and the morning sickness was something else.
Benny woke up every morning to Beth retching in their bathroom, and the mood swings were frankly terrifying. One minute she was fine then the next she was just crying and no matter what Benny did to help nothing seemed to work.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” he asked one morning as he looked at his crying fiancee, who nodded and buried herself back into the blankets.
Beth had never told Benny too much about her life; but the hormones brought it all to the surface. As if it were a raw wound across her heart and her skin was stained red from the pain. She would tell him at night when the lights were off, about finding Alma dead in the hotel room, about that moment when she realised her mother was trying to kill them both. About having no one except drink, because being drunk meant she didn’t have to feel how much of a failure she was. He held her tighter on those nights and gave her an extra kiss goodnight.
Other than the emotional rollercoaster, Benny couldn’t have been prouder of her. She still competed, she still did interviews. She kept going through it all, no matter how much he insisted on trying to step back a little so that the stress wouldn’t hurt the baby, but Beth had a will of iron and didn’t break. She kept going.
Pregnancy’s, it turned out, were long things. Benny felt like Beth had been pregnant for years when she woke up one night hissing then proceeding to slap Benny.
“What?” he grumbled.
“The bed’s wet,” she gasped.
“How? I dried the sheets this morning.”
“You fucking idiot the baby’s coming.”
“... shit,” Benny jumped out of the bed, grabbing the bag they had packed for exactly this moment, then his face dropping. “I can’t find my keys.”
“What do you mean you can’t find your keys!”
“I mean I can’t find them!” Benny was running through the house, searching every coat pocket and jean pocket he owned. He always threw his keys into the bowl at the door for this exact reason, yet apparently there had been some lapse in his brain earlier and he hadn’t done it.
“Benny!” Beth was leaning against the doorframe as another contraction hit her. He glanced at her and then ran to the drawers, praying to whatever God there was to let there be a spare set.
And thank mother above there was.
“Ok, ok, ok. Deep breaths, just as the midwife said. See? Breathe with me, here,” he grabbed her hand, another arm going under her to support her and walking her to the car. Beth let out the occasional strangled cry, her hair already stuck to her head from sweat. Benny hated seeing Beth crying, and here she was next to him with tears streaming down her face. They ran into the hospital, quickly running up to the receptionist.
It was all a blur after that. Benny had tried to be there, had wanted to hold her hand but they said there was something wrong and Beth had to go to the theatre. He didn’t sit down once, he paced the entire time until a kind faced nurse stepped out with a smile.
“Would you like to come meet your daughter?” she asked. Benny walked blindly into the room, and there they were. Beth was asleep, but his daughter, his child was awake.
“Mom’s doing well,” the nurse said quietly. “And you’ve a beautiful little girl. Both are well, just tired.”
“Thank you,” Benny heard his voice break with emotion. He felt the emotion. He walked over, smiling at the wide eyes.
“Hey,” he whispered, leaning down to kiss his daughter's head. “Hey there, Alma,” he breathed. They had already agreed names; Alma Rose if it was a girl and Issac if it was a boy. And there she was, his daughter , cooing softly as she was held by his sleeping fiancee.
“I love you, Beth Harmon,” Benny whispered, kissing her head and then Almas. “I love you both so fucking much.”
They had been married for fifteen years when Beth recieved a Lifetime Achievement award for all she had done in chess. He remembered when she had gotten the letter; he had been reading the morning paper while Alma lectured him on the changing politics of the world.
“Al, hun. You really don’t have to tell me about feminism and sexism. I was there.”
“But the media portray women in such an inferior light.”
“You should chat to your mother about that,” Benny mused. He set his paper down and looked over at Isaac and Zoya then back to Alma.
“Are you going to help your sister get ready for school?”
“She’s five, she can do it herself.”
“I know she can, and you know she can, but she doesn’t. And therefore she needs a bit of help, if you do it I’ll buy you the new Smiths vinyl you’ve wanted.”
“The vinyl and a t-shirt.”
“The vinyl and a new set of earrings.”
“Done.” Alma extended her hand for Benny to shake which naturally he did. Part of him hated how much of himself was in his eldest daughter, how she already knew how to barter and bargain to get exactly what she wanted.
Isscar, however, was oblivious to most things. Benny watched his middle child sit there, counting the spots on the tablecloth with great intent when Benny quietly whispered.
“Are we thinking of eating sometime there, or are we going for breaking a record?” he asked. Issac shushed him with the flick of a hand, still counting and then Zoya dumped her bowl of porridge on her head with an applause.
Alma rolled her head to look at Benny with a ‘seriously?’ look.
“You did the exact same thing,” he answered, scooping his youngest child into his arms and putting her in the sink to rinse her hair out.
“Alright, I’ll sort Zoya. Can you get Issac to eat something and get changed please?” he called over his shoulder. Alma sighed, but nodding, going over to her younger brother and getting him ready.
“Mommy’s busy,” Benny answered, grabbing a bowl to pour water into and starting to rinse the porridge out of the blond locks. “She’ll be back soon.”
Then the bottom lip began to go, and the eyes began to fill up with tears. Benny sighed, Zoya cried a lot. Alma had cried three times in front of Benny, and as a fifteen year old he couldn’t see it happening anymore. Issac cried every so often when he watched something sad or when his pet rock somehow died (Benny really still didn’t understand how that had happened).
But Zoya cried often and only could stop when Beth would hold her. Benny tried to explain to his youngest that Beth was not always around. That she had to understand this, and usually Zoya just cried harder to that.
He let out a sigh, continuing to wash the porridge from Zoya’s hair in the kitchen sink when he heard the click of the front door.
“Ma!” he heard Issac yell then the thundering of footsteps as Issac and Alma ran to greet Beth. Benny heard her laugh, and could picture her wrapping her arms around their children and kissing their heads as she put her coat on the rack.
“Hello, princess,” Beth breathed, walking into the kitchen and opening her arms for Zoya. She stopped before she reached Zoya however and kissed Benny.
“Hello to you too.”
“Hello, Madame Chair,” he teased, kissing her. He couldn’t have been prouder of her, becoming the chair for the International Women's Chess Union. She had started to campaign after they had married and it had only gone from strength to strength. Benny knew her though, he saw how tired she was.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, stepping aside as Beth rolled her sleeves up to take over washing the porridge out of her hair. “We’ve had three invitations.”
“London, Prague and Brussels.”
“All international,” she mused as she rinsed Zoya’s hair. “Thoughts?”
“I don’t see why not. They’re all old enough to travel now, and I know Alma wants to see the world.”
“Townes I’m sure will be there to cover the events, he can watch the child.”
Beth hummed in thought, pressing a kiss again to Zoya’s head. “What do you think, princess? Do you want to come see London with mommy and daddy?”
“Yes,” Zoya answered with a firm nod. Beth smiled at her youngest, kissing her once more. Zoya had been Beth's little miracle. They both loved all their children, but Benny knew that Beth adored Zoya. She had been the hardest birth, the pregnancy had been terrible from start to finish and then the post-natal depression that followed.
Benny hadn’t thought Beth was going to survive it. Yet here she was, dressed in her best shirt and trousers after taking a conference on the importance of women's rights within the chess world.
It was what she did, and what made him love her more and more every day. She didn’t simply survive, she persevered. She overcame and she won.
Benny didn’t mind running the house while Beth was out with her work. They both still competed in chess, they both still had interviews together and press tours together. But if Benny had to choose, he would’ve picked running the house of mayhem over all it. Alma was at that age of difficult, being fifteen and raised by Beth Harmon made her no fool and no push over. He adored his eldest’s wit though and her constant scathing commentary on life.
Isaac was just Issac. He got excited by rocks and wanted to be an archaeologist. Benny tried his best to keep up with his son's rambles but really he couldn’t. And Zoya most days went to school and was picked up by Beth.
He loved them. He loved his family.
When Beth came home one day, he knew the look anywhere. The tears in her eyes. He walked over to her quickly, cupping her cheek and brushing a tear away from her cheek. “Darlin?” he whispered, cupping her face in his hands. He pulled her into a hug, rubbing her back. “What happened?”
“I did it.”
“Did what, Beth?”
Shakily, she pulled out a letter for him, her hands shaking. Benny held the letter, taking it and reading it to himself then stopping. And then rereading.
“Beth…” he breathed, looking at her as she nodded in answer to him.
She had received the LifeTime Achievement award.
She had done it.
Benny scooped Beth into his arms, hugging her close and laughing as she cried into his shoulder. He held her as close as he could, laughing to himself.
She had done it. All the years of the comments, the remarks, the tears of anger had been worth it for this. To be recognised.
“I love you, Beth Harmon,” he breathed, kissing her again. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Benny Watts.”
Russia became a place of sentiment for Benny and Beth. Many things had happened in Moscow for them; it had been where Zoya was conceived, it had been where Beth won nearly all her titles, and it had been where Benny had beaten Borgov as well.
They tried to visit Moscow as often as they could, especially around the holidays to see Borgov. Benny still didn’t understand how his wife was such good companions with the International Master but he never remarked on it, he just let them drink coffee from glass and compare chess stories and laughter.
Benny didn’t enjoy the cold of Russia. He didn’t enjoy how he had to wear layers and how hard it was to keep warm in the country, he did enjoy Beths coats though. She looked glorius in anything she wore.
She had worn a beautiful black coat when they went to Moscow for Borgov’s funeral with a black dress. He had held her hand the entire time, her own hair was dazzled with grey strands now, no longer the red head it had been in the years previous.
They had agreed that they would spend time in Russia, to reconnect. Alma was busy being a lawyer in London, Issac indeed went on to be an archaeologist in Italy and Zoya was a teacher. They all had grown into the people that Beth and Benny were both proud of, and the pair had given their children everything they needed. Nobody prepared you for how hard it was when your child grew up, no one warned you what it was like when they told you they were moving across the world.
Benny had never expected them to stay, he knew there was a world waiting for them out there filled with colour and romance that they deserved to see. Beth had taken it hard, when Zoya finally left she became silent for days. Then one morning she woke up and put a chess board between them and Benny knew she was back.
In Russia, naturally they had found themselves dragged into a match. Beth destroying her competition as did Benny until it was only them two left. The smile that Beth wore was enough to make Benny’s heart glide from such great heights. He wanted to stay there with her forever, above the world and never coming down. But he knew every dream had to end eventually, sadly.
Beth won of course, she stood and opened her hand for him to shake. He didn’t, instead he pulled her down for a kiss which made the crowd that had been watching burst into applause. He always loved kissing Beth. Every time he did it, it was like the first time.
It was in the same hall that they had won in that Beth announced her retirement from chess. He heard the stunned silence, then the roaring applause. She had received a standing ovation that lasted ten minutes and by the time they stopped, Beth had tears streaming down her face. She waved, then walked over to Benny and pulled her into a tight embrace, kissing her head then her cheek.
“I love you, Beth Harmon,” he whispered to her, pulling her tight to his chest. “I love you so much.”
He always did, and he always would love her.
- +1 -
Beth did not like making a big deal of her birthday. She did not like her birthdays and she had been dreading this birthday. This birthday meant she had outlived Alma, meant she had been on the earth for more years without her adoptive mother than with.
She had woken up and had pulled the blankets back over herself, curling up into a ball and just wanting to fade away and become nothing. The pain in her chest was tight, and she felt the coldness next to her from where Benny had been gone.Beth rolled her eyes, sitting up and grabbing her cigarettes, he probably was out playing chess in the park as he always did.
Benny always seemed to forget Beth's birthday and today she was glad. She didn’t want to be reminded of it, she didn’t want to acknowledge it. It was on days like this, when her heart felt so rancid in her, that she could feel its poison leaking into her body.
Beth took a long drag of her cigarette, holding in then exhaling. She watched the clouds of smoke fill the room around her and she pressed her free hand to her head, dropping her chin to her chest as she tried to breathe.
She couldn’t remember the colour of Alma’s eyes. Or her smell.
“Beth?” she looked up, quickly sniffing as she wiped the tears from her eyes. There was Benny, standing at the foot of the bed with a cake in his hands. It was tiny, not so much a cake and more a large muffin with a candle in the centre.
“I made you a red velvet cake,” he whispered, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to her and smiling. “Make a wish.”
Beth looked at him, closing her eyes and blowing the candle out, wishing that she never had to lose Benny suddenly. WIshing they spend the rest of their lives together.
“I love you,” she whispered, a quiet crack in her voice. Benny set the cake on the table, pulling Beth into his embrace.
“She loved you too, kid. She loved you too.”