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Words, Words, Words

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It was so weird, having Beatrice right here in the flat,interacting with his new uni friends, fitting right in, ignoring and insulting him just like old times. Ben had spent months missing her, and now she was here, and he had to act like he hated her again. Being broken up sucked.

Right now, they were in the middle of a big party that Pedro and Freddie had put together to welcome all their visitors to the flat. Freddie was chatting with Rosa and Kit, Costa was trying to look like she hadn’t been surreptitiously following Jaquie and Adrian around all night, Balthazar and Pedro were in the kitchen working on appetizers with Hero and John, and variousother people were milling around and socializing, drinks in hand. The party was in full swing, and of course,of course, Ben had somehow ended up squished onto the sofa right next to Beatrice.

All bickering had tapered off into an awkward silence, and it was kind of scary, honestly. It was like they were strangers again, and Ben didn’t know how to fix it. He’d been trying to get up the nerve to talk to her all night, but he kept getting interrupted or forgetting what he was going to say or deciding that she probably wouldn’t have anything more to say to him anyway. It was hopeless.

“So, uh, how have you been?” he started now, but before Beatrice could answer-

“Hey, Benedick! Who’s your friend?”

The speaker was Henry Holofernes, the TA in Ben’s English Lit class. Freddie had invited him. And how many times did he have to remind Holofernes to just call him Ben already?

Holofernes, though he’d addressed his greeting to Ben, was now pushing his glasses up on his nose as he stared avidly at Beatrice.

“Hey, Holofernes,” said Ben loudly, forcing the TA to look around at him. “This is-”

“Beatrice,” Beatrice cut in, smiling up at him. “Nice to meet you, uh-”

“Henry!” said Henry, shaking Beatrice’s proffered hand. “Henry Holofernes. Benedick here is in one of the Literature courses I’m doing this semester. I’m a teaching assistant. Well, a future professor, that’s the dream,” he laughed, and settled onto the only open space left: the arm of the couch.

“Wow, that’s great. Do you know what kind of literature you’d like to teach?” Beatrice asked. Ben rolled his eyes.

It was a miracle that Mr. ‘Future Professor’ managed not to fall off the narrow armrest space. In order to keep himself balanced, Holofernes had to rest one hand along the back of the couch, so his arm was, effectively, around Beatrice. He beamed down at her and launched into a detailed explanation of his projected career path. Ben glared.

Beatrice didn’t seem to notice how close Holofernes was sitting. She was laughing and her fingers kept brushing against his arm, and Holofernes was leaning closer as he described the way one student had summed up a certain classic book as ‘Terrible People Doing Terrible Things: The Novel’.

Like that joke was even funny. It only applied to almost every single book on the class syllabus. The TA ought to get some new material already.

Then the conversation, because it involved Beatrice and literature, naturally turned to sci-fi. Before long she and Holofernes were talking about Brave New World as though they’d been members of the same book club for years.

“Oh, I remember that one,” Ben cut in. “Wasn’t that the one where everyone was happy but also completely brainless and annoying?”

“There’s so much more to it than that, though,” Beatrice said enthusiastically, and Holofernes nodded.

“You might give it a reread, Benedick,” he suggested. “It might stick with you more the second time.”

“Henry’s right, you know,” Beatrice agreed. “Rereading gives you all kinds of new insights. The first time I reread Frankenstein…”

And Ben was forgotten again, just like that. “You might give it a reread,” he mimicked, making a face. “Henry’s right, you know. Whatever.”

Just because he didn’t remember every detail of a book he hadn’t read since year twelve of high school! What did Holofernes know anyway?

“Okay, well I think I’m just going to go see if Pedro needs help in the kitchen,” Ben announced, trying to break up the conversation. Henry and Bea ignored him.

“I’m going to steal a flamingo and keep it as a pet,” he tried. Still nothing.

“Did I ever tell you that I don’t like Frankenstein? Not even a little bit?”

Beatrice didn’t even flinch.

“I hate English Lit,” Ben said miserably, his words still falling on inattentive ears, and got up and stormed away.

When he looked back, Beatrice was still laughing at something Holofernes had said, and the taller, handsomer, smarter-than-Ben TA still had his arm around her. Perfect.

                                                         ***

The party was still going on, but between missing Beatrice, watching that jerk Holofernes chat her up, and dodging whatever drama was going on between Costa, Jaquie, and Adrian, Ben was just tired of the whole thing. The mature thing to do would be to sit out there and try to have a good time, even though he was in a shitty mood.

So of course, he went and hid in his room to sulk instead.

What was so great about Henry Holofernes, anyway? Sure, he was taller than Ben, a little older, with brown eyes and dark hair and the beginnings of a beard that should have made him look scruffy and unkempt but somehow just made him look more mature and rakishly handsome.

Big deal, whatever. Beatrice didn’t even like bearded guys, and besides, Holofernes was pretentious and annoying and had bad eyesight, so there. And he didn’t have a popular YouTube channel or an amazing sense of humor or a British accent, right? That was something!

It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that right now, Beatrice was out there having a wonderful time, not missing him, and Ben didn’t even know why he was surprised. This was his own fault; he was the one who had sworn off dating after all. He was the one who had given up on their relationship just because of one stupid fight.

He’d not been thinking about all this for very long when there was a knock on the door.

“Ugh, Pedro, for the last time, I don’t feel like- oh. It’s you.”

“It’s me,” said Beatrice, coming in and shutting the door behind her, muffling the noise of the party so they could talk. “Are you okay? You seemed upset.”

“I’m surprised you noticed, you were so busy with Henry,” said Ben bitterly. “Because he’s soooo interesting, right? Can’t get enough!”

“Okay, first of all, asshole, I am at perfect liberty to talk to whomever I want. We both like books. Get over it.”

Benedick flushed in embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I was out of line. I just feel like I can’t remember the last time we had a real conversation like that, and I guess I was… maybe I was a little bit…”

“I can’t hear you,” Beatrice said. “What was that? You’re jealous? Aww, I’m sorry, I’d never want to come between you and Henry.”

“Fine, yeah, okay, I was jealous. I know it’s stupid and you absolutely have the right to talk to anyone you want, and I want you to get along with everyone here, I do. I’m an idiot, I can admit that.”

“Yes, you are. Thank you,” said Beatrice, sitting next to him on the bed. And then, “You know, if Holofernes was actually hitting on me, I would just have told him the truth.”

“Wait, what? The truth?”

“That I’m not interested. That there’s someone else.”

“There’s someone else?” he asked, alarmed.

“Oh, yeah,” Bea said teasingly. “He’s here at this party, actually. Bit of a loser, to be honest, but still a total babe. You know I divorced Benedict Cumberbatch for him?”

They both laughed, finally easing the tension.

“Whoever he is, he sounds like a real catch.”

“If you like dorks with flamingo obsessions, maybe,” she teased.

“Do you like dorks with flamingo obsessions?” Ben asked hopefully.

“I like you,” Beatrice said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I love you, Ben, and I’m tired of being angry and I don’t care about the breakup or the ridiculous flat rules. I hate feeling like I can’t talk to you anymore. It sucks.”

There were a million things he wanted to say. Bea was here and she still loved him and he couldn’t even think, he was so relieved. 

“I love you too. And I’m so sorry, love. About everything. I tried to talk Freddie out of the dating rule, but he insisted, and then I was so mad at you and at myself and it was easier to just agree to get him to shut up, and then you came back and I didn’t know…”

"I’m sorry too. Can we just start over? Just, pretend this never happened and move on?"

He grinned. “Pretend what never happened?”

"Exactly," Beatrice laughed, leaning in and kissing him. 

There would be time later to work it all out, to talk about the breakup and decide to give this another chance, to figure out what to do about the flat rules. 

For now, though, as he kissed her back, everything was forgotten.