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I Like the Truth but Love the Dare

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Beth stayed in Russia after her win. She knew she was expected to return to the States, she knew she was expected to play the president for some publicity stunt, but frankly, she didn’t care. She had found a place for herself in Russia, a place she had initially feared and traveled to alone, with apprehension.

She had found a place among the men in the park, playing chess purely for the enjoyment of the game. She found a place in the little coffee shops along the side of the park. She had even found her place in an old bar, where she sat in a dark booth in the corner sipping on a soda and reviewing the games of the Moscow Invitational and even some of her games in the park after the coffee shops closed.

She knew she should go back, she should return to Kentucky. She should return to Alma’s house, which she’d made her own. She should return and go through the motions of what the Federation wanted her to do, appear on a program here, do an interview there, pose for this photo, jump through this hoop. But she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to go back stateside, didn’t want to deal with the sexist reporters and the performative interviews. So she didn’t.

She found a cozy apartment in Moscow, not too far from the park she frequented. She knew logically she couldn’t stay in Russia for very long, knew this was temporary, knew that the next tournament season was right around the corner and that there were expectations she needed to live up to. She knew the possibility of spiraling, being by herself for so long in a country famous for its liquor, but something about this cozy apartment with its deep green wallpaper and dark wood counters lured her in. She found herself signing a three month lease, which would give her plenty of time to reset, enjoy the city, drop off the grid for a while and then travel back to Kentucky before the next State Championships so she could go and defend her title.

She had most of her important books with her, her original copy of Modern Chess Openings, books on attacks, defenses, middle and endgames, and one that Beth curiously chose at the last minute to bring with her. As she sat in the late afternoon organizing her books on the little shelf her studio apartment came with, she let out a small huff as she placed Benny’s book at the end.

She still doesn’t really know why she brought it to Russia with her, when she’d left Kentucky Benny had told her not to call him anymore and made it abundantly clear he wanted no part in her playing in Moscow. She supposed she brought it in leu of bringing a second, figuring that somehow having the book written by who she wanted there as her second would supplement him not actually accompanying her, but ultimately she doesn’t know why she wasted precious luggage space on a book filled with arrogant anecdotes and only partially helpful chess advice. She remembered Benny calling, telling her he missed her when she was back in Kentucky. She remembered feeling the same but saying nothing, just taking another drag of her cigarette instead of responding.

She remembered calling him and being proud of herself for standing up to Christian Crusade, somewhere, deep down, she supposed, hoping that he would be proud of her too. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t proud of her for standing up for what she believed in, he just became angry with her for turning it down and even more angry when she’d asked him for the money. She supposed she probably shouldn’t have asked him for the money; after all there was probably some part of him that resented her a little for going to Russia instead of him.

As she sat there staring at the collection of books she had for the next few months, she began to wonder when his opinion became so important to her, and more importantly, why. It wasn’t as if he was someone she looked up to her whole life, it wasn’t as if he taught her how to play. It wasn’t as if he was really even that much of a friend to her. But, he saw things the way she did. Despite the angry phone calls, despite the fumble after the best sex of her life, “doesn’t everyone?” is what replays in Beth’s mind over and over.

She lands on the fact that she cares what he thinks because he is the only person she’s met, potentially the only person on the planet, that thinks the way she does. Harry had snapped at her, telling her she was too quick for him. Townes had never been able to keep up with her thinking when it came to chess either. But Benny, this knife wielding, leather wearing, infuriating pirate understood her. No one else had ever understood her in the same way, which is why “don’t call me anymore,” stung the way it did. She told herself in the moment it wasn’t a big deal, it was just Benny, it didn’t matter that he didn’t want her to call. But the next time she went to pick up the phone, and dial the number she didn’t realize she’d memorized, it hit her. The one person who could understand didn’t want to talk to her. So she drank. She drank and she drank and she forgot. It was easier that way.

Then Jolene showed up at her door. Jolene showed up with the news that her first mentor, the person responsible for some of her only joyous times at Methuen was gone too. She thinks to herself that she’d probably have found chess eventually, even without him, but she knows she would not be the same player without him. She wouldn’t be the same player without any of them, without Mr. Shaibel, or Townes, or Harry Beltik, and especially without Benny. She remembers knowing the minute Jolene opened her mouth that she had to quit the drinking, the drugs, all of it, but it didn’t really sink in until she visited the basement where she essentially grew up, finding her victories plastered on a cork board. She knew she had to quit for her own benefit, but also because of what everyone else had done for her.

She realized as she sat in front of her bookshelf, filing away copies of Chess Review and other international magazines that that is why Benny had been upset with her. It was partially because she’d snubbed him, chosen the bottle over him, but mostly because she’d insulted everything he’d done for her. She’d essentially told him that she didn’t need his help, and that she was better off without it. And then, she did the opposite of how he’d advised her by turning down Christian Crusade, and then turned to him to supplement the funds she’d lost from not taking his advice. And even though she stood up for herself, and was proud of herself for it, she understood why Benny was upset with her over it. It made sense to her, why he wouldn’t want to talk to her anymore. She’d chosen to bury herself in a bottle instead of being with him, she’d chosen to throw away five weeks of training with him for one night in Paris in a hotel bar, leading to a disastrous game, and on top of it all, she’d chosen to rub it in his face that she didn’t take his advice by asking for his money.

In her misery she’d snubbed him and she hadn’t even realized it. She was used to looking out solely for herself, not thinking that she had anyone else. It wasn’t until Jolene showed up in Kentucky, until she saw Mr. Shaibel’s board, until Townes flew to Russia to support her that she realized she didn’t need to be the only one looking out for herself anymore. And then, she’d gotten the phone call. The one that cost Benny more than he probably had to spare. And the words “if he goes for the knight, hit him with a king rook pawn,” allowed her to let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She knew Benny was still angry with her, she knew he was still upset with her, but he had helped her when she needed it the most. When all she wanted was a drink, was the pills, when all she was wanted was her mind to be cloudy so that she could visualize the biggest game of her life, she found what she needed was that call from Benny. Of course, the others were all there too, most surprisingly was Harry, but she knew that it had been Benny to bring them all together for her, it was Benny who had been following her games, and had been keeping up with her from afar.

And now, sitting in her little apartment in Russia, staring off into space lost in her thoughts she realized she needed to go to New York before she returned to Kentucky. She needed to apologize to Benny, and she wanted him to know she’d stayed sober. She wanted to tell him about her game with Borgov, not just have him read about it in the papers or the magazines. She longed for his basement apartment, the street noise, and even a little bit for the air mattress on a concrete floor. She longed to play chess on his shitty chessboard, the one marked with sharpie, with mismatched pieces. Oddly enough of all, Beth realized, was that she wanted Benny to be proud of her for what she had accomplished.

She found this feeling to be odd; it was foreign to her to seek anyone else’s approval save that of her own. She stood from where she was sitting to move to the closet, too small for the majority of her wardrobe but large enough for what she’d brought, and what she’d bought. She figured that maybe a walk in the park across the way before the sun went down would help to clear her mind, help her to make sense of why she longed for the good opinion and company of someone she’d outright hated not even a year ago. She found a deep green dress, almost the same shade as her new wallpaper, pulled on her white coat and headed out.

It was cold in Moscow. Beth hadn’t been outside longer than a few minutes before her face turned a wind-chapped pink. As she walked, she played through her Moscow games in her head, she’d been over them on her board several times, but each time she reviewed them she learned something new. She found a new misstep of her opponent’s, a new weakness of her own, or a way she could’ve won a few moves sooner. She’s walking past a large fountain as she finishes going over her game with Borgov, yet again realizing Benny was right when he told her she needed to open her queen file. She hums to herself and stuffs her hands in her pockets, clearing her mind as she takes in the environment around her. None of the usual players are at the chess tables, and the coffee stand right beside them is closed. She decided that she could walk around, smoke a cigarette, although she supposed she could probably benefit from giving those up too. Russia could be a new start for her in many ways, she could reinvent herself, if she wanted. She had already given up the pills and the wine, but as she reached into her purse for a cigarette and a lighter, she decided that she would hold onto just one last thing that was bad for her. After all, cigarettes reminded her of good times that she had had, of Jolene in the early mornings at Methuen, before breakfast; of the only home that she had known, and of those five frenzied weeks in a shitty little apartment in New York. The smell of cigarette smoke filled the air as she placed one between her lips, flicking her lighter over the other end. It was not the best smell, but for Beth, it was a cozy smell. She remembered the hazy smoke that would surround her as she played chess with everyone important to her, and more importantly, her adoptive mother. She knew it was probably bad for her, but she didn’t care, and she only smoked one or two a day now anyways. As she pulls another drag from her cigarette, she continues to walk past a large fountain, the water having been drained due to the low temperatures. She tries to think about what it would look like during the summer, the sun reflecting off of the rippling water in the wind.

She is once again brought back to thoughts of Alma, and how she wishes she could be experiencing Moscow with her now. She wondered what she would’ve thought about the tournament hall where she had won her World Title, she wondered if the room she had been placed in would’ve been considered pleasant by Alma’s standards. She wanders aimlessly around the park, walking through small banks of snow that had not yet fully melted as she wonders what Alma would think of her residing in Moscow for the time being. Would she think that Beth was hiding from her responsibilities? Would she be disappointed that she didn’t return to the home where they had been a happy mother-daughter duo? She had bought the house in Kentucky for Alma, for her memories with her mother; she did not want to lose the place where they had been so happy. And even though she’d redecorated, and changed the look of the home, it was more reflective of her and her adoptive mother’s relationship now than it had been before anyhow. True, she took down the paintings of animals that Alma had enjoyed, but she had instituted wallpaper and furniture that resembled the pieces that Alma had commented that she’d enjoyed during their travels. She had chosen wallpaper that looked like some of the wallpaper in the hotel they had stayed in in Mexico City, the last hotel they stayed in together. She had remembered Alma saying it was “groovy,” to which Beth had rolled her eyes and laughed at. She chose furniture pieces that were reminiscent of the hotel in Vegas, the deep velvet the same color as the headboards in the room she had been allowed her first beer. So, although she had changed the house after she bought it, it was more an homage to Alma now than it ever had been before, and she looked forward to returning to Kentucky in a few months. But for now, she mused, she was happy where she was and figured that Alma would be happy too. Beth felt a little guilty about it, but she had taken the photo that was hung over her bed in Moscow, in between the two red shaded lamps. She figured Alma would’ve liked it, and she wanted a memento of the room she had spent hours and hours studying in to win her title. She had the perfect place picked out for it both in her place here and in the house in Kentucky.

Feeling refreshed from her walk in the cold air, Beth determines that it is time to head back. The late afternoon is quickly approaching its end, and she feels her stomach growl. She still had some leftovers from the restaurant she had eaten in for dinner the night before, and decided that that would be good enough for dinner. She planned on taking a warm bath when she returned, letting the cold leave her bones as she soaked in the large clawfoot bath that she had insisted on her apartment having, and then reading the latest chess magazine she had picked up yesterday and turning in for an early night. She moves around the other side of the fountain, and sets off back to her temporary home.

The sun is going down as Beth walks up to the building of her new apartment. It’s a large building, with a lobby on the first level. On one side of the lobby is the mail room, lines of shiny gold plated mailboxes with little black numbers carved in them. Beth isn’t sure if the key the building gave her works, or even which box is hers, but it doesn’t matter much since she hasn’t updated her mailing address on anything. Towards the back of the lobby there are large couches sitting around dark wood tables, a few of the building’s residents chatting together or reading by the window. Across from the mailboxes there’s a little desk where packages are dropped off and visitors check in. Beth walks down the little hallway beside the desk to the elevators, taking her gloves off after pushing the button for the eleventh floor. She looks up at herself in the mirrored ceiling of the elevator, her hair the longest it’s been, brushing the tops of her coat covered shoulders as she does. Her cheeks are still pink from being outside, making her hair seem even more red. She wasn’t wearing her usual dark liner and mascara, and her brown eyes seemed bigger to her somehow this way. The elevator dings and she steps onto the landing, turning and walking down the hall that ends in a large floor to ceiling window.

The sunset is beautiful, turning the sky brilliant shades of pink and orange. She stops to take in the view, the other buildings around hers no less intricately designed. It’s beautiful, and she can’t help but be reminded of how good of a choice she made to stay in this city that had once held such apprehension for her. The window is cold to the touch, and as she watches the sun sink lower in the sky to disappear behind the building next to hers she thinks about all she’ll have to do once she returns. She’ll need to send a formal apology letter to the president, hoping that he will be amenable to rescheduling their photo op for when she returns. She may even have to make up some excuse as to why she had been detained in Russia, but she figured that she would cross that bridge when she got to it. She knows the Federation is extremely fed up with her, despite the fact that she just beat the Russians at their own game, and did so with grace in a designer dress. She knows that she will probably have to do some groveling to get back into their semi-good graces, and makes a face at the thought. It then dawns on her that she needs to call around to everyone, Harry, Townes, the Twins, Wexler and Levertov, thank them again for their help and for their support, let them know that she is okay and when she’ll be back. She wanted to drop off of the radar of the chess world, but not necessarily scare her friends in the process. She still needs to pay Jolene back for getting her to Russia - but Jolene knows where she is, how long she’ll stay, and when to expect her back. When Beth had called to tell her she was going to stay for a few months, she had insisted that Jolene allow her to mail her a check with her money back, plus interest. Jolene had told her not to worry about it, she didn’t need the money back until late July anyway, right before her semester started. So Beth promised her a game of squash, a shopping trip for some new shoes, and some time dedicated to being around her sister before her tournament season began as soon as she returned to the States.

The question of what to do about Benny comes to mind yet again as she stares down at the lush hotel carpet at her feet, patterned and colorful. Her warm boots are a little wet from the snow, faint water stains forming in the soft black leather. The sun has gone down past the horizon now, the sky an orange gray that fades into black. She can’t see any stars in the night sky, which she absentmindedly frowns at. The sky at night is one of the things she loves the most about her little place in Kentucky. At her home there, she’s in the suburbs, so there isn’t much light pollution, and the dark sky shines with an abundance of stars. The same stars she counts when she can’t sleep, stars she used to wish on as a young girl. The stars have been constant for her, always there to greet her night after night. As she thinks about the night sky, she is once again drawn into reverie about her five weeks in Benny’s basement apartment. She couldn’t see the stars from his apartment, and even if he’d had large windows she doubted very much that she would’ve been able to see the constellations anyway. After all, there’s no cassiopeia to be seen in New York. She knows that she should call Benny too, she should probably call him first; she should thank him specifically for calling and helping her. She should thank him for gathering her friends, she should thank him for everything, even the things she screwed up.

She starts to walk down the hall, heading to her doorway on the north side of the building. She walks past several fake potted plants, horribly selected artwork for the walls, and the strangest assortment of welcome mats. She looks down as she walks, keeping her gloves grasped tightly in her left hand as she searches for her keys with her right. She passes a terribly out of place oil painting of a skeleton reading a book sitting on a toilet and she knows she’s almost at the alcove that her door is set into. Even though she’s only lived here a few days, she’s grown somewhat attached to the painting, the first time she saw it she laughed out loud, the landlord looking up at her skeptically and unamused. She assumes that an old tenant painted it, hung it, and it had just never been replaced. She finds her keys, rounding the corner at her door only to find the very man she had not been able to stop thinking about sitting right beside the fake potted plant the property manager had seemingly assigned for her alcove.

“Benny,” she says, mostly to herself, her brows knitting together in confusion.

“Uh, hey, Harmon.” He looks the same as always as he shuffles to stand up. Same leather coat, same stupid boots, same ridiculous knife strapped to his hip, rings on almost every finger and large chains around his neck. His hat is present, although instead of being on his head it’s in his hands, and he’s fidgeting with the brim of the hat, the worn leather pliable beneath his fingers. His hair is longer than the last time she saw him, but what strikes her the most is the deep, dark bags under his eyes and the look of concern that seems to stay plastered on his face.

“I don’t understand, what are you doing here,” she finds herself asking, her voice coming out a little more clipped than she’d intended, “how did you know where I was?”

She was guarded. She didn’t know what to expect from this. She didn’t know why Benny was here, she didn’t know how he’d gotten here, how he’d found exactly where she was. She hadn’t told him, she hadn’t even spoken to him since the day of her adjournment. She squared her shoulders and looked at him, confusion and maybe a little bit of panic crossing her face.

“Well, gee, good to see you too. I fly halfway around the world to find you because I’m concerned, because I haven’t heard anything from you in a week, because the magazines and newspapers are reporting that you never returned from Russia, because you blew off meeting with the president, and appearing on the Tonight Show. Absolutely incredible, Beth. I’m here, at your secret apartment in fucking Russia, and all you care about is how I found out.” He’s exasperated, he’s exhausted and he’s worried, and now he’s frustrated. Beth didn’t seem glad to see him, she just seemed mildly annoyed that he’d found her, she seemed annoyed that her secret hiding place wasn’t as secret as she’d thought.

The truth was, Beth was glad to see him. She just expected to have more time to prepare what she was going to say to him when she saw him again. She felt panicked. She felt like her king was trapped in a corner with nowhere to go and no pieces left to defend it. She was scared to have this conversation. She was scared to be vulnerable, she was scared to tell Benny what she was feeling. And, to be fair, her immediate concern was more about how he found her. The only person who knew exactly where she was was Jolene, and she just couldn’t picture Benny calling her, since he didn’t even know who she was. So how did he know? He obviously went out of his way to find her, and judging by the bags under his eyes lost sleep getting here. Keeping all of these in mind, Beth fights against her instincts to flee, fights against her desire to shut this down immediately and against her instincts of self-preservation and quickly says, “Benny, that’s not true. I…” she swallows and looks down at the carpet once again, “miss you.”

And there it is. What Beth longed to say on the phone a few weeks ago. What she realized she felt more heavily than she thought only hours ago. She has now opened herself up and allowed herself to be vulnerable, if only with that one statement. It’s more than she’s ever really said to anyone, and in a way more than she meant to say. She needed to plan, she needed to figure it all out in her head, what she was going to say to him, how she was going to fix the divide that had formed between them, how she was going to express to him that she was grateful for his help and sorry for the way she acted towards him before she left for Moscow. But she didn’t have that time now, because Benny was here, in her hallway, standing in front of her, and she was scared to look up at him. She was scared that she would see anger in his face, frustration. Or even worse, she was afraid that she would see the same cool indifference that she gave to him when the roles had been reversed. So she stares at her feet, she stares at the hideous patterning in the carpet, and quietly says, “I wanted to bring you with me, as my second.”

She risks a look up at him and she can’t make out the expression on his face. She was relieved to see that whatever it was, it was not indifference. His features had contorted themselves into a mix between surprise, confusion, and even a little bit of frustration. She supposed he had a right to be frustrated, after all. She had, in a sense, run away without word, and with her history she should have known that Benny would be worried. Benny, who was calm, cool, and collected and seemed to the public to only worry about himself, had been concerned about her well-being in the past, and she wagered it was probably safe to assume that he was worried about her wellbeing again. Benny doesn’t say anything right away, he just blinks at her as his face shifts yet again into more of an expression of confusion. After what seems like hours, but is probably only seconds, he says “I wanted you to ask me,” and as the words left his lips he seemed surprised that he had actually said them, he looked as if his mouth betrayed his brain, and opened without his permission. He clears his throat and continues, turning his hat in his hands, “when you called, you know, about Christian Crusade. I wanted you to ask me to come with you. Shit, Beth, I wanted to be here for you.”

“Benny, I-” She starts, but he just keeps talking.

“A few weeks after you didn’t come back to New York, after what happened in Paris I got a call from Harry, of all people. It was after you asked me for the money, after I told you not to call me anymore. And I meant it, Beth, and I guess I’m still a little upset you didn’t come back, but he said he’d seen you a few times, and that you just looked worse and worse. He knew you had left from Ohio to train with me in New York, and I guess he was trying to reach out to anyone he knew who could help. He said that he’d been calling, but your phone was off the hook. He suggested that I come to Kentucky, but I was being honest with you, I didn’t have the money. I was honestly too angry to even come. He called me again, But I was trying, Beth. I was betting on games I had no business betting on, I was playing blackjack and poker all night. Honestly, I was losing more than I was making. I was trying to get together enough to come here, to Moscow for you. In the end it turned out that I only had enough for a phone call, so I got everyone together. Harry helped with that too, actually. He called the twins, they drove over on the third day of the tournament. Harry joined us the next day. Of course, Levertov and Wexler were only a few blocks away, but they came the second I called.” He’s rambling now, something that Beth has never heard him do. His words are usually concise, he doesn’t usually ramble on. She can tell that he came here with no real plan either, that he was coming in just as unprepared for this conversation as she felt. But what mattered to her was that he was here. He was here and he wasn’t mad at her. She didn’t realize how much she needed him to not be angry with her anymore until she was faced with the possibility that he would be.

She shoves her hands deep into her pockets, grasping tighter onto her gloves in the process. She isn’t good at this, she doesn’t know how to respond to Benny. And she’s not exactly sure why, but “I’m sober… I have been since I got here,” is what comes out of her mouth. “I want to drink, Benny, I want to drink every day. I want the pills. But knowing that everyone back home, everyone in New York believed in me, hell, Jolene even paid for me to come here, stops me every time. I can’t just throw that all away again. I can’t,” it’s her turn to ramble now, “I can’t let everyone down again. I won, I won sober, and I want to stay sober. I am trying so hard. And,” she looks up at him, stepping towards him, “I am so glad you’re here. Thank you for finding me.”

Benny reaches out with one of his hands to gently grab her arm, the other still on his hat. “You didn’t make it easy to find you, you know. I’m proud of you for staying sober, Beth.”

And there was what she longed to hear. There were the words she’d been waiting for since she’d phoned him about Christian Crusade. And now that she was hearing them, she was hit in the gut with emotion, and she was overcome with a feeling she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It also hit her that they were still standing out in her hallway like idiots. She grabbed her keys, looking towards the door and offered, “let’s go inside.”

Benny just nodded, and she led him inside her new studio. It was small, quaint, but the minute Benny walked in it was distinctly Beth. She couldn’t have stayed here very long, she’d only been away about two weeks in total, and the tournament wrapped up about 5 days ago. There was an empty coffee cup sitting on her small kitchen table, sitting beside a folded over newspaper. Benny never quite had the same knack for reading Russian that Beth did. As he scanned the apartment, he noticed the bed was carefully made, a habit Beth had never kicked from her days at Methuen.

He’s so lost in taking in the empty suitcases stacked beneath a window at the back of the apartment that he almost misses Beth asking him “By the way, how did you find me?”

She takes off her coat and hangs it on the coat rack that came with the apartment, shuffling her shoes off right inside the door, Benny following suit, hanging his coat and his hat right on the same hook, right next to Beth’s. She can’t help but smile at the symbolism, her coat white and his black, like opposing pieces, or complementary squares on a chessboard. The irony is not lost on her of how initially they were more like the former, opposing pieces, enemies trying to take each other out to reach the top. But now, now as Benny stands awkwardly in the middle of her tiny kitchen, they’re definitely the latter. Two complementary parts of a whole picture, working together to create a board that facilitates a game of beauty, a game of grace and skill.

She motions for him to sit down at the table, and he does, sitting awkwardly in one of the mismatched wooden chair.

“It was Townes who called me first. He said he didn’t know where you were staying but that he knew you were planning on staying in Russia. He said when I called you right before the end of your game your face lit up like a kid on Christmas or some shit, and that he’d never seen you look like that before. He said that it must’ve meant something. And then he said something I wasn’t so much a fan of, said that even when you’d loved him you’d never looked like that when talking to him. Never looked that excited to see him. He said I needed to do something about it. Told me you planned to stay here for a while.” Beth sat down beside him in the other chair, propping her elbows on the table, her eyebrows knitting together. She looked like she wanted to say something but Benny continued. “So I called the Federation. I called to see if they could connect me to your agent that was with you during the tournament. They of course, said no, the bastards. So I called Harry, to see if he knew anything. Beth, I was scared. I hadn’t heard anything from you, you hadn’t come back, and I remember what happened the last time you faced Borgov. I know you won this time, but I also know that addiction doesn’t always differentiate. He hadn’t heard, but gave me the name of your friend Jolene. She seems lovely,” he added, with a sarcastic drawl, “threatened to kill me if I came all the way out here and ‘fucked up your peace.’ She said you were okay, that you called her when you needed to talk, and that you’d stayed ‘sober as a judge,’ as you used to say. It took me about 6 phone calls to her and I had to agree I wouldn’t fight with you while I was here for her to finally give up where you were.”

“Benny,” Beth ventured, “why did you come? Jolene told you I was okay. I appreciate you worrying about me. But why did you fly halfway across the world?”

Benny looks taken aback. “Haven’t I made it obvious?” I missed you, Beth. I missed you and I wanted to be with you. You didn’t come back and I found myself waiting for you to show up at my door any day. When I realized that wasn‘t going to happen, I figured I had to come to you. I found the money to make it happen.”

“...Thank you for coming. I meant it when I said I missed you. You’re going to laugh at me, but, I was putting my books away earlier and I was so glad I brought yours with me. The Chess Review you were on the cover of too. I suppose I brought them because I couldn’t ask you to come with me. Benny I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you for the money. I should have gone back to New York after Paris. I really am sorry. Most of all, I’m sorry that I threw away everything you did for me when I was in Paris. I am so fucking sorry, you spent weeks helping me. You spent weeks standing in line for your own shower, weeks waking up early with me to help me train. And I didn’t appreciate it enough and for that, I am sorry. I was so wrapped up in clawing my way up, so wrapped up in how I could win that when an opportunity to unwind presented itself, I took it. And I couldn’t control myself, and I hate myself for it. And I blew it. I fucking blew it, and then I basically rubbed it in your face that I didn’t care about your help, basically told you that you were a means to an end by not coming back. On top of everything, I poured salt onto the wound by calling and begging you to send me here, when I didn’t even thank you for what you’d done to get me to this point. And I am so fucking sorry. I don’t know how you’ll forgive me, and if you can’t that’s okay, but I need you know that I realize I fucked up, and that I am sorry.” For the first time that night, Beth finds her voice, and looks up at Benny as she finishes her statement. He’s searching her face, watching her speak. He’s looking at her like he did that night they’d played speed chess, the night he’d asked her if she still liked his hair. He’s looking at her like her words were the last bottle of water in the head of a desert. When she’d finished speaking, he reaches out and brushes a strand of her hair behind her ear, just like she’d done in that dingy bar in Ohio.

She catches it, and the meaning behind the movement isn’t lost on her. To anyone else this would just look like a nice, albeit intimate gesture, but for them it meant so much more. For them, this movement was Beth opening up to someone else for the first time back in Ohio. It was the movement that lead to the beginning of their partnership, their friendship, whatever they ended up becoming.

“It’s okay. It’s all okay. You don’t need to beg for my forgiveness Beth, you already have it.” The hand that had moved her hair now rested along the side of her face, his thumb stroking her cheek. She grabbed his wrist with her hand, pushing her face further into his embrace.

She doesn’t know when it happens and it takes her brain a minute to catch up but the next thing she realizes Benny’s lips are on hers, soft and reassuring. She doesn’t want to, but she pulls away, looking up at him.

“What are we doing, Benny? I don’t want this to be like last time.” He can hear the apprehension in her voice, the shakiness in the question.

“It won’t be. I promise.” And then his lips are on hers again, and she feels like she’s floating. Everything falls out around her until all she feels is Benny’s lips on hers, his hand threaded through her hair. She shuts her eyes, allowing her other hand that wasn’t attached to his wrist to land on the curve between his neck and shoulder. The kiss deepens, and Beth leans across the table to kiss Benny harder. She can taste cigarettes on his tongue, his stupid mustache tickling her upper lip.

She’s getting tired of leaning across the small table to kiss him, so without preamble she smiles and without pulling away too much stands up and walks over to sit on his lap, swinging her leg over his as he pushes back from the table to make room for her. He moves his one hand to hold onto her waist, feeling the warmth radiating from her body through the thick material. He chuckles into their kiss, pulling back a little and looking up into her eyes, “Why, hello Beth.”

She leans her forehead down until their foreheads meet, a smile lighting up her whole face. “Why, hello Benny.”

The hand that was in her hair goes to join his other hand around her waist while both of her hands end up flat on his chest, his black sweater soft under her touch. She leans down and captures his lips in another kiss, twisting her fingers in the cable-knit of his sweater. Benny squeezes her waist, running one of his hands up her back. He feels her shiver, and she can feel him smile against her mouth. He remembered from the time they’d slept together before that she really liked it when he trailed his fingers up her back. She trailed her lips across his cheek to his ear, nibbling on his earlobe as she reached her left hand up to tangle her fingers in his hair.

She could feel what she was doing to him as she ground her hips down onto his lap. She gently pulled his head back with the fingers that were tangled in his hair and kissed down the front of his neck. She was glad that he had opted to wear a sweater with a v-neck as opposed to the traditional turtle neck that he usually wears. He runs his hands up and down her back again, grabbing her butt and pulling her impossibly closer to him.

“Hey,” he breathes out, lifting her hips up and pulling them back down again, “what do you say we go mess up that bed over there, huh?” He raises his eyebrow and tilts his head towards the back of the apartment.

She kisses him lightly, starting to get up, but a firm hand reaches out and stops her, gripping under her thighs and standing up with her. She laughs and wraps her legs around his slim waist, holding onto his shoulders as he carries her across the small space and drops her down to the bed, her red hair flaring out under her. He kneels down onto the bed beside her, leaning down and kissing her neck. Beth reveled in the feeling. The weight of Benny on top of her, the soft feeling of his lips on her neck. They way he kissed her skin felt like he was worshiping her. This was different than the last time. The last time they’d done this had been hurried, sloppy, two people searching for release in each other. This was the opposite. Neither of them had shed a stitch of clothing yet, save for their shoes and coats which they took off at the door. But even though they were fully clothed it felt more intimate than it had before, Beth felt that they were closer.

Benny loved the dress that Beth had chosen for the day, but more than anything he wanted it on the floor. He reached down for the bottom of the dress, trying to shuck it up her body. Beth stops him with a polite tap on his shoulder, biting her lip as she says “it would be easier if you just unzipped it.”

She sits up, holding her hair off her neck so that he could reach the zipper. He sits behind her, his legs on either side of her and unzips her dress slowly, kissing down her back as he exposes skin. She slides the sleeves off her arms and he peppers kisses all over her shoulders, across the freckles spattered atop them. He breaks away for just long enough to take off his sweater, his chains clinking together as they fall back to his chest. She looks back at him and smiles, the same smile that plays across her lips when she pins his king, the same smile she gets when she has him right where she wants him. She moves off the end of the bed, letting her dress fall to the floor.

As she stands there in her simple cotton bra and panties Benny thinks she’s never looked more beautiful. He sits up and reaches out for her, pulling her back into him. He kisses down her stomach, reaching around to unhook her bra. He only fumbled with the clasp for a second before it, too, fell to the floor. As soon as her breasts were exposed, he kissed the soft flesh of one while he tweaked her other nipple with his fingers. She gasped above him, one of her hands flying to his hair, which only made him double down and continue his ministrations. He sucked and licked and kissed his way across her chest, pausing in between her breasts to suck a small mark into her sternum.

Beth had become acutely aware of how soaked her panties were getting, and Benny’s jeans were getting tighter by the second. She reached down with her free hand to unbuckle his jeans, getting his embarrassingly large belt buckle undone before saying “off, I need these off, Benny, please.”

He reached down and fumbled with his button and zipper, lifting his hips to pull his jeans and boxers down. His cock strained up against his stomach, and Beth reached down to stroke him. He felt hot and heavy in her hand, and at even the slightest touch he was moaning in her ear.

“Beth, fuck,” he panted, surging forward to kiss her again. She pulled her hand away, and Benny whines in protest. She steps out of her panties, straddling Benny’s lap. He scratches his fingers down her back, eliciting a moan of his name from her.

“Do you have anything?” She asks, kissing his neck.

“Yeah, uh, hold on.” He fumbled for his wallet in the pocket of his jeans which were half hanging off the side of the bed. She sits to the side of him kissing his shoulder as he rolls the condom onto his dick.

He leans in to kiss her again, tucking her hair behind her ear. “You want this, right?” He looks into her eyes as he asks, and the flash of desire answers his question before she does.

“Yes, Benny. I want this. I want you,” she lifts up and he guides himself into her. She lowers herself a little at a time, moaning as he bottoms out inside of her. She pushes his chest so that he lays flat on his back on the bed and uses his chest to lift herself up and back down again. He’s moaning beneath her as she picks up her pace, lifting herself up and down on his dick. He reaches up to tweak her nipple and she moans, falling forward and capturing his lips in a kiss. The change in angle makes Benny cry out, and in a rush of movement he hooks a leg around the back of Beth’s thighs and he’s turning them over.

“Benny, fuck, I need more,” she hardly recognizes her own voice as she begs for him to touch her, her hands scrambling for purchase on his back. He moves faster, one hand reaching down to touch her clit. She screams his name as soon as he makes contact, her legs locking around his back pulling his hips in closer, tighter.

He thrusts into her a few more times, rubbing her clit and kissing her neck. It doesn’t take long before she feels a knot begin to build in her belly. “Benny, please, I’m gonna come, please, please make me come, Benny…” he latches his lips to her collar bone and moves his fingers faster, thrusting twice more and she’s coming with a shout of his name. She squeezes his lithe hips with her legs, keeping him in place as she rides out her high, grinding herself down on his dick.

He’s impossibly close to the edge. All it takes for him to come is the feeling of her clenching down on his dick on his next thrust and he’s coming too, grunting close to her ear. He stays above her, trying to catch his breath as he kisses the side of her face, “you are gorgeous, Beth. Absolutely intoxicating”

Beth’s thoughts are scattered, the only thing she can think of is him. All of her senses are filled with him, the taste of his skin on her tongue, the smell of his cologne in her nose, the feel of his body on top of hers. She’s enjoying just being held close to him, both of them breathing heavily as Benny absentmindedly draws patterns with his fingers on her arm. But then Benny’s kissing her chest again, trailing sloppy kisses down her belly until he reaches her center. She props herself up on her elbows, her brows knitting together in confusion.

Benny sees her expression and kisses the insides of her thighs; making her shake with the aftershocks of her first orgasm. “I want to,” he says, a shit eating grin on his face as he kneels on the floor and pulls her towards the edge of the bed.

She’s only been eaten out once before, and it was by Benny back in New York on that same night he told her she should play the Sicilian. She hadn’t stopped thinking about it since. It was what she thought of at night when she was feeling lonely. It was what she thought of when the lights were dim and she slid her hand down her underwear to relieve some of the pressure building inside of her. But as he licks up her folds and sucks on her clit she realizes that absolutely nothing can compare to the real thing. Her hands once again go to his hair, pulling him closer to her, loving what he’s doing with his tongue. He dips it in her entrance and then up her folds, sucking on her clit, then bringing the flat of his tongue over her clit again. She’s screaming, she’s sure her neighbors can hear her but she doesn’t care. She’s screaming, and cursing, and shouting Benny’s name. He slips in two fingers as he sucks on her clit, and he can feel her clench down on him hard. He crooks his fingers and hums against her, and she’s coming again, her hands tightening in his hair and a moan of his name escaping her lips that he’ll replay in his head forever. He kisses her thighs as she comes down, delighted in her little flinches from the overstimulation.

He stands, his knees cracking as he does and lays down on the bed, opening his arms for Beth to crawl up against his chest. She kisses him, and she can taste herself in his mouth. She pulls back and smiles at him, pushing his hair back with her hand.

“Stay with me,” she says suddenly, as if the thought just struck her out of nowhere. “I have this place here in Moscow for 3 months, right up until the tournament in Kentucky. Stay here with me. Stay in Russia with me, Benny. We can play chess in the park, and I can make you horrible eggs and-“

“Okay.” He cuts her off with a smile. “Okay, Harmon. I’ll stay here with you. But promise me,” he adds, “please don’t make me eggs. They’re inedible.”

She laughs, really, truly laughs, a laugh that bubbles from deep within her, and she knows that no matter what, no matter where Benny asks her to go, from now on, her answer will be yes.