The moment Beth stepped into the house she smelt the lingering odour of stale alcohol and tobacco and with it was taken back to her past. It had drifted away while she was in Moscow, where her attention was so beautifully diverted, but it was undeniable as she stood on the threshold of not just her house but all her mistakes.
She thought she had moved past it when she had gotten sober and left all reminders behind for a plane to Moscow. Now she saw that it wasn’t so simple. Back in the house she could see so clearly how easy it would be for her to go back on it all and fall back into the spiraling well that was her utter hopeless isolation and addiction.
Here was the place where she thought she would find a home. And she had. But she had also found an obsession. It wasn’t just the pills that had been her addiction since Methuen. It wasn’t the chess that was her lifeblood and her calling. It wasn’t even the booze that had been a vague curiosity and then an escape. Rather it had been a rush and colour and traveling and this and this and this. Beth had never learned how to just be. It had been a home, but it had also been the place where everything had gone wrong, and she had almost lost it all because she didn’t realise she had anything to keep in the first place.
And back in the house Beth realised that she so desperately wanted all of that to be her past. Which meant the house would need to become her past as well before it became her tragedy.
Once the decision had been made it was surprisingly easy to follow through with it. Unsurprisingly clearing out the house of all temptations was a struggle. Sitting on the edge of the bath she had stared at the pills in her hand and thought that she might take just two. Just that once. Just for the last time. But she knew that if she did it would be the beginning of the end.
She flushed them. She poured every bottle of wine into the sink. Followed by the old whisky and the tequila and the beer and all the rest of it.
It was all gone but the remnants of it weren’t. The smell lingered wispy in the air. It seemed to curl around her in a way that said softly in her ear so she couldn’t forget it so easily. The empty bottles littered the tabletops, and a sticky residue was felt on the surfaces.
Beth opened the windows in the hopes that it would air out the house and got to work. She binned the bottles and cleaned up all the mess. She got to boxing everything she wanted to keep. In the end it was surprisingly little and consisted almost entirely of clothes and books.
What she wouldn’t keep she would donate. The furniture would stay but she couldn’t stand the though of leaving Alma’s piano behind. But she also knew that there would be no way to take it where she was going. In the end she gave it to Jolene, along with the money she owed. And the black dress. And the purple one.
The house was sold to a sweat elderly couple shortly thereafter and as the last of Beth’s boxes were packed into the delivery van Beth hoped that the house would be transformed into a brighter future for them then it ever could have been for her.
She turned away with a smile and a feeling of contentment that had long eluded her. There was nothing left for her here.
The delivery man helped her place the last box down in the narrow, slightly greasy, very trash filled hallway and Beth saw him off with a heartfelt smile and a hefty tip.
Then she regarded the challenge ahead of her with slight trepidation. In all the planning and packing she hadn’t spared much thought for what would happen if her plan didn’t work. It occurred to her now though that this might all have been a tad foolish. They hadn’t spoken since that costly call to Moscow. Beth had no idea where she stood with him.
On the other hand, Beth was sick of living with regrets. Just this once she was going to put everything on the line.
With a lump in her throat and hope in her heart Beth knocked thrice.
Thirty seconds. Thirty seconds of waiting and the moment the door opened Beth knew she’d made the right decision.
“Why, hello Benny.”
To his credit Benny seemed to smother his surprise quickly and took it in stride. “Why, hello Beth.”
Not wasting any time Beth grabbed one of the boxes and made her way into the tiny apartment.
Benny stared perplexed after her and stared briefly into the hallway before back at her. That familiar look of his was firmly in place. It was the one he had worn when she brushed his hair aside in the bar in Ohio. The same one that had graced his features when she had challenged him to speed chess. His mouth slightly agape and his eyes flitting back and forth as if unsure what was happening.
Beth smiled fondly as she answered his unasked question. “I sold the house in Kentucky. I’m moving to New York and needed a place to stay.”
Benny stared at her in incredulity. “And who decided you were going to stay here?”
Benny didn’t help her with moving in her stuff. He simply watched as his tiny apartment became more and more full. He watched as she piled her books on top of his and put her clothes in his closet. There wasn’t much space for either as their collection of chess books were quite extensive and most likely double ups. The closet which had been big enough for her during those five weeks before Paris was struggling much more to fit her entire wardrobe. These were problems they would have to fix for later but would have to do for the time being.
The few trinkets and the picture of Alma were placed in the bedroom on the side that had sometimes been called hers.
Through all of it Benny stood to the side and watched her in slightly amused silence. Arms crossed and hip cocked against the kitchen counter he watched as she placed the last few boxes directly at his feet.
“And these are?”
She smiled a wicked smile. “I’m so glad you asked Benny.”
She stared him in the eye as she peeled open the first box and pulled out carefully wrapped silver trophy after silver trophy. She placed each of them on the counter, never breaking eye contact or dropping her saccharine smile. Benny, too, looked back at her, his own sarcastic smile firmly in place as he kept his gaze on hers.
She felt extra glee as she placed the US Championship cup right at the front. But as she grabbed for the last cup, she felt her smile slipping into something more genuine. A pride more innocent trickled into place as she set down the Moscow first place trophy.
Benny’s smile became softer too. “Hey, Beth?”
“I’m proud of you kid.”
“I’m proud of me too.”
Benny snorted and as he did so he brushed his hair aside in a movement that was so very Benny that Beth couldn’t help but throw her arms around his waist and press her face into his chest.
He startled for a moment before he wrapped his arms around her. Beth relished the fact that she was still able to do this. That he was still willing to let her in despite her mistakes. At that moment Beth felt what she thought might be her future and she wanted, needed for Benny to know it too.
“I missed you.”