Title: It's The Living That Scares Me
Warnings: Deals with death, with lesbians, and mild language.
Author's note: This is a very sad fic. Have a box of tissues handy. A different kind of fic for me to write, so enjoy.
Feedback: Please, dear God, review!
My father used to say a prayer at my mother's grave, where he would trace her name on the tombstone and whisper the prayer. I never knew the words to the prayer, I was too young to see anything but his actions and by the time I was old enough to listen close enough, he had started going alone. But I say the same kind of prayer at Benjamin's grave, tracing his name in the tombstone and muttering words to a God Benjamin made me believe in.
"Sure God exists," Benjamin said in his laid back way, tilting back in his chair. "I mean really, Dawn, How the fuck else did we get here?"
I shrugged, "Ever hear of the Big Bang?" He laughed.
"You scientific types- never think outside the fucken box. How do you think what started the Big Bang came to be?" I shrugged, "Yeah, you got no answer science whiz, do you?"
"Shut up, Benjamin," I muttered, smiling at him.
I go to Benjamin's grave every month- he was my cousin and best friend after all. Just the two of us. Well, for me at least. Benjamin was always surrounded by people, it was the way he was… he attracted people to him, he used to be so full of life. But my last memory of him is pale and dead in a casket as they shut it and lowered him into the ground.
I drop to my knees in front of his tombstone and make the sign of the cross. Benjamin made me believe in God, so it's only fitting I pray for Benjamin when I visit his grave.
"Benjamin," I say softly, tracing the Benjamin over and over. "I miss you." It's kind of stupid, me talking. There's no one here, just me, Benjamin's grave and a lot of crows flying around.
But I do miss Benjamin, I miss him like I've never missed anyone in all my life. We grew up together, Benjamin and I. He's the only person besides my mother I knew my whole life. And they're both dead. I met my father after my mother died, he showed up. I know she kept him from me but… it doesn't take away the gap in our relationship. I remember watching him pray at her grave, in his quiet, hushed way, the way my father goes about everything. It's easy to see how a woman so full of life like I remember my mother kept him at bay. I'm sure he did everything she wanted, just like I'm sure she really did capture his heart.
I remember the first time I saw my father. I was staying at Benjamin's, after my mother died, with my Aunt Marie and Uncle Ari. Marie, my mother's sister. We were playing with Lincoln Logs when my father walked in. He was a tall, wiry man, with thin black hair, and gaunt features. And I'd never seen someone's face I'd never met so full of love. He loves me, my father does.
I've been so caught of in my reverie as I start tracing the Judah on his grave that I didn't even notice the pair of feet beside me. White sneakers, girls, Nike. I should recognize those feet- every time I spoke to their owner, I was staring at her feet.
Of course I stared at her so much I thought I'd memorized every single feature on her, every bit of her, not missing a thing. The perfection consumed me, she became my only obsession. I keep furiously tracing the name Judah on his grave as she drops to her knees beside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her put on a prayer shawl and light a candle. And then I know who it is…
"She's gay, you know," Benjamin commented off hand one day after he'd caught me staring at her for the fifty-millionth time. "She likes you too."
"Yeah… right, cousin," I laughed, pretending to shrug it off. "Like I'd ever have a chance with a girl like her."
"Seriously," he argued. "She goes to my synagogue. We're good friends, she thinks you're really cool."
I laughed, "The synagogue, great place for you to pick me up chicks, eh? I knew I should have chosen to become Jewish instead of Catholic."
"Careful," he warned laughing, "Ma might hear you say that and return to her recruiting ways." I laughed too.
"Seriously though," I argued, "I have no chance with a girl like Rebecca Coldberg. No chance at all." And I meant it too, as I caught a glance of myself in the school's trophy case. Black BDU pants, a black shirt, and my spiked dog collar, topped off with my trench coat. Girls like, well for argument's sake, Rebecca, didn't even quite realize I existed, let alone consider me for social interactions.
Benjamin shook his head at me, "You have no faith in people, you know that?" I gave him my trademark cocky smirk.
"I do too, Ben."
"Benjamin," he corrected automatically, just like he had ever since we were kids.
"Whatever," I said dismissively, "It doesn't matter… Rebecca and I are just… we come from two totally different worlds okay? Why push limits?"
"Right," he snapped, "Who needs things like love?" I just shrugged and we kept walking.
"Love," I muttered, forgetting Becca was right beside me, "Ben…" I almost expected him to snap Benjamin at me but it didn't happen. And yet, somehow I felt like it was a kick in the gut when he didn't respond because… because Benjamin was dead.
I stole a glance at Rebecca, her head still bowed in prayer. She and Benjamin had been good friends, I remember that. But like I said, everyone loved Benjamin. I keep looking at her, she's done with the prayer now. She shoots me a friendly smile.
"Do I capture your attention now, Dawn?" she asks her soft, light voice, teasing, friendly. Not at all mean, just… sweet.
"N-no," I say and return to looking at Benjamin's grave, as I start tracing his last name, Czarkoffski. Tracing each letter, over and over again, as though trying to wear it down.
We'd been sitting up in the tech booth patching lights into the board the last night Benjamin and I had been together. "Look, Dawn," Benjamin said seriously, glaring at me. "I want you to ask Becca out. Understand me?"
"Get off it, Benjamin," I told him, furiously punching buttons. "I'm not going to, and that's that."
"What's your problem, Dawnie?" he asked in amazement, "You're gay, she's gay, she's nuts about you, you practically fall over yourself about her."
"It's not that simple, Ben," I told him and for once he didn't correct me, "I… I've played that kind of fire before and well, I got burned, understand?"
"Not every girl is Fiona," he argued. "Get used to it. Do you think I'd recommend some girl to you that's as low and superficial and just plain bitchy as Fi was?"
"I don't think you'd try," I told him, "But I'm still of the opinion that girls like Fi… girls like Rebecca, girls like them are… well, bloodsucking whores."
Benjamin scowled furiously at me, "Do you really just want to be alone your whole life?" I shook my head.
"Course not. That's why I got you, Ben."
"Benjamin," he corrected finally, his frustrated look causing me to grin, "I'm not going to be around forever."
"Crikey, Benjamin, don't talk like you've got cancer or something. You're only seventeen, just like me." I shot him a glance as I started on the last line of lights, "What number is the faulty parcan?"
"Thirty-seven, socket B," he answered automatically, "But that's not what I mean. I mean, it's not always going to be just me and you, Dawnie. You need to grow up. Meet other people. Find more girls. Not everyone's like Fi."
"Yes, but most people are." I cocked my head at his helpless expression, "Look, Benji. When the time is right, I'll find someone. If it's meant to be Becca, it'll happen. But let's just let fate take it's sweet little time, okay, cousin?"
"Yeah, well, fate's not going to happen if you don't stop being some damn reclusive hermit, you understand me?" I shook my head.
"Why is this so important to you, Benjamin?" I demanded to know.
He sighed, "I just want to know you're taken care of, Dawn."
I laughed, "I'm seventeen, Benjamin, I'm not ready to be tied down. And like I said," I told him, punching his shoulder playfully, "That's why I've got you."
He shook his head sadly, "Ask the girl out, Dawn?"
"I'll think about it," I humored him. "You taking off?"
"Yeah, Ma wants me home for Sabbath dinner. See you around, Dawnie."
"Yeah, yeah, Ben," I said absent-mindedly searching for the faulty parcan on the sheet, double checking his earlier assumption. "See you, Ben."
"Benjamin," he called fondly over his shoulder.
And that was how Ben went out of my life. With the shout of his name and an argument over the girl right next to me.
And by the way, he was wrong about the par's number. It was Twenty-seven, not thirty-seven.
But things like that don't see to matter so much now.
"You gonna talk, Dawn?" Rebecca says softly from next to me, "I mean, eh, you wanna?"
I ignore her as I start tracing my fingers over the dates of death on Benjamin's grave. September 4, 1983- April 12, 2001. I'll never forget those dates.
And then over the Star of David above his name. I like tracing that. It makes us seem closer. I feel Rebecca's hand on my own, stilling the tracing fingers. "Dawn?"
I look at her, "Can't you see I'm praying here?" I ask quietly. She shakes her head.
"You're not praying… you're avoiding. Let's talk, Dawn. Just me, you, and Benjamin." I smile at her in spite of myself. Crazy girl, I guess. You can't talk to the dead- they don't listen anymore… but then, isn't that what I've been doing all along?
She moves my hands, making me trace the Star of David again. "So," she prods, "Start talking. I'll start listening."
I don't want to talk to her, I realize, but… I do. "I miss him," I whisper softly, almost inaudibly to her as she moves my hand down to start tracing the words, beloved son, beloved friend.
"I know," she whispers back. "I know."
I move my hand and hers away from the tombstone, my melancholy ritual competed, even with her help. I sit there for a second, then light up a cigarette. She looks mildly surprised at the fact I'm smoking.
"I didn't know you smoked," she says softly. I shrug.
"Always have. Reckon you don't smoke," I add smugly. She nods.
"Of course I don't smoke," she confirms, almost haughtily, "Give me one." I give her a strange glance and chuck her the pack. She takes one out and motions for my lighter. I almost laugh as I watch her try to light it.
"I've never done this before," she confesses. "Show me." I laugh softly, remembering my own trial and error cigarette lighting attempts.
"Put it in your mouth," I instruct, "Then when you flick the lighter to light it, suck in like you're taking a drag." I watch her fumble, trying to follow the instructions until finally she lights it. When she finally succeeds, she hacks a little, like anyone who's new at this smoking game. But she does it quite well, if you ask me.
She gives me a small, well, naughty smile. "Evil corrupter," she accuses fondly. "Benjamin never mentioned you smoked," she tells me quietly, glancing at his grave.
"Well, he didn't like that I did," I confess, and then pat the grave, "Good ol' Ben."
"Benjamin," she corrects me, as automatic a response as he would have given. I nod.
"Benjamin… that's right, I remember that part." I take another long, slow drag. "Good ol' Benjamin."
"He talked about you a lot," she says absently. "All the time really."
"I know," I reply. "Just like I talked about him. We were best friends."
"Yeah," she agrees, "He wanted us to be together, you know." And she says it so matter-of-factly.
"Yeah," I nod, "I know… I… know."
"Stop," someone said as soon as I'd climbed off the ladder up to the grid. "Don't move."
I ignored them and turned around, "Look, I was just fixing a faulty par-" My words were cut off as a hand covered my mouth.
"It's just me," a teasing female voice says. My eyes adjusted and I realized I was looking into Rebecca's face. I pulled her hand away from my mouth.
"Why didn't you just say so?" I demanded.
Becca shrugged, "Not dramatic enough."
"Right," I teased back, amazed at how calm and controlled my voice remained, "Drama queen. Of course.
"Of course," she shot back, "What else would you expect?" I shrugged.
"What do you want from me, drama queen?" I asked her in my most annoyed bored tone. She smiled serenely.
"Go out with me." It took my a few seconds, maybe even a minute, to recover from her sudden approach. Just enough time for her to get nervous. "I mean, um, well…"
"Hey, Becca," I said softly, "It's okay." She smiled.
"You mean," she kept smiling, "You mean we could maybe go out?" I sighed.
"Well, no," I stammered, "I mean, it's not you, you're nice and gorgeous and sweet and everything but… I'm just not at the point where I want to be involved with someone."
She nodded. "I know." And to emphasize that point, the next thing I knew, her lips were on mine. "I know."
"He really did, didn't he?" I say finally. "He… wanted me to have someone to take care of me…"
Becca nods. "Yeah… he told me to look out for you, a lot. He always wanted me to have your back for him." She sighs and takes another drag of the cigarette. "I guess I haven't done a very good job."
I shake my head, "Nah, it's not you. I… I wouldn't have let you anyway. You're not Benjamin, so, you know… not good enough. He's supposed to be my guardian angel. He always was…" I trail off nostalgically.
She nods, like she understands and maybe… maybe she does. She just squeezes my hand and lets us drift further into silence. And doesn't let go of my hand this time.
"What… what was that?" I managed to stammer out. She smiled.
"That was me… understanding."
"Damn you understand well," I muttered, pulling her in for another kiss, as she breaks down all my walls and barriers like I never expected anyone to be able to. Like no one was supposed to be able to, not even Benjamin, because I built them so well.
It was a kiss, to be grossly understated. It was more about two bodies mashing together, with hands roaming, tongues dueling, pushing away even the smallest bit of space.
It was everything kissing was supposed to be.
She finally pulled back. "So then," she asked, gasping for breath, "How about we go out sometime?"
I nodded, "Yes, how about we do that." A statement, not a question anymore. Fuck questioning, fuck being unsure, fuck being lonely. Because right now, fucking her is sounding really nice. Needing, wanting her, that's sounding nice too.
She scribbled her phone-number on my hand with a purple sparkly gel pen that once would have made me cringe. "I need to go," she said, kissing me quickly. "Call me."
And all I could do was nod dumbly as she bolted from the theater, a huge grin on her face.
"You never called," she breaks the silence, "I know it's irrelevant but… well, you never did call."
I nod. "I was scared. Without Benjamin around, I was scared. Besides, I needed time to mourn. By myself. Needed time to come to terms with Benjamin's death. Needed time to grieve, pay my respects."'
"I… I think you've done that quite enough, Dawn," she says softly, not intrusively, just stating a fact. "You know he wouldn't have wanted you to mourn him forever. He would have wanted you to have moved on, to have gotten up twice as strong."
"I know," I admit, "But I was never very good at doing what Benji wanted me to do. Besides… it was just… well, the wrong time, if you can understand that."
She nods, "Of course… you went to college, I went to boarding school after it happened… Even if we'd have wanted it to, it never would have worked." She lets out a long, disgusted sigh. "You don't really believe we couldn't have made it work, do you? Because I sure as hell don't."
For once, I stop to think before I reply.
"Hey, Dad," I said, throwing my bookbag down on the sofa. "Hell of storm, ain't it? Dad? Dad, what's wrong?" I asked in fear, seeing my father crying at the desk. I've seen my father cry before, usually at my mother's gravesite. I ran over to hug hum, "What's wrong, Dad?"
"Benjamin," my father whispered to me. "Benjamin is dead."
"No," I said, pushing my father away. "No. You liar. Why are you lying?"
"Shh, Dawnie," he said, standing up to hug me to him. "He's gone."
I remember when my mother died. I was at Benjamin's and we were out back playing in the sandbox and Aunt Marie came out to find me and she hugged me and I noticed there were tears on her face. And she told me. And I ran off into the woods surrounding their house. I was six.
"No," I repeated, firmer this time. "I just saw him. At the theater."
My father hugged me to him, and I made out a few words in between our mutual sobbing. Storm. Ice. Drunk driver. Car crash. Dead instantly.
This time there were no woods to run off into.
"I guess…" I start, "I guess I believe we could have made it work. But I guess what I don't know is why would we have been together in the first place? Because of a passionate kiss shared in the theater or out of obligation to Benjamin's memory?"
She doesn't answer right away either, just plucks out a few pieces of grass and throws them to the wind, "Both, I guess. I mean, we can't really know… it's no use, sitting here, wondering why we would have done something that we… we didn't do."
"You're right, you know," I agree softly, "We'll never know."
"No, I'm wrong. They say you can't go back but… but I don't believe that… I think… I think we could know…" she stammers and trails off.
"When did the past start to matter so much to you?" I ask her softly. She stops playing with grass and looks me right in the eye.
"When I realized you were never going to be part of my future," she says, crushing the cigarette out on the sole of her shoe, like I had done with mine.
I light another cigarette and she steals my pack and lighter the second I set them down to take one for herself. "I wish Benjamin were here to sort this out," I muse aloud.
She nods, "But he's not. It makes me think though… I'm scared of dying."
"I'm not," I answer honestly. She cocks her head at me. "Dying… it's not scary."
"What are you afraid of, Dawn?" she asks.
I'm not afraid of anything, I want to tell her, to be tough. But it'd be a fucken lie. "It's the living that scares me," I admit. "I'm scared of living without Benjamin."
She nods. "Scared of living… with no Benjamin… I can see that."
"And you," I continue, as though she'd never spoken at all.
"You're scared of me?" she asks softly, and I think she's either scared of that, or hurt.
"Yeah… you scare me, Rebecca. Because of the things you make me feel."
"That… that scares me too," she confesses. "How much I love you and how little I really know you… it's scary that I can love someone this much."
I nod. "Love's a scary, scary business," I say, and then it hits me that she just professed her love for me. "You're in love with me?"
She nods, "I'm sorry if it scares you. I… I know you don't feel the same way about me, and you might never love me but… I can get past that."
I shake my head. "I do love you," I say, knowing it's true. "So very much."
She takes my hand, "Then maybe… maybe do you think we could be scared… together?"
"Together," I repeat, then nod. "Yes. Together."
"Then let me pray once more and then let's go somewhere and… and talk." I stand and watch her put the shawl back on and pray the Kaddish on more time over the grave of my best friend and cousin. When she's finished, I offer my hand to help her up. She takes it… like she's meant to.
"Give me a minute alone?" I ask her quietly. She nods and kisses me before walking toward the exit.
"So, Benjamin," I say, crouching before his grave, "This is it for another day. You know I'll back, week after week, month after month, year after year. But today… today, I'm gonna start doing what you told me to." I smiled and traced his name one more time, "Today, I'm gonna start living."
"I'm only sorry," I continue, finishing his name, "That you had to die so I would learn to live." I stand. "I love you, Ben."
I can hear him snap, "Benjamin" in my mind. That's enough for me.
"Benjamin," I correct myself. "I love you, Benjamin."