Benjamin Park had woken up without a job, without friends, and without hope. He did have one thing, though, a mild concussion that left his head spinning as he stumbled through the streets of New York to his apartment. The door was still ajar, flung open the night before… which, in all honesty, Benjamin had a hard time remembering. That was the concussion’s doing, no doubt.
He stepped into the living room with bitterness brewing under his skin, reaching up into his mind and taking hold. The Stratfords had caused this, it was their doing, and some deep-rooted anger burned him from the inside out, threatening to overtake him. It was Samuel who got him roped into this, Rose who had convinced him to betray his boss, and look where that got him.
Look where that got him.
With a cold cloth against the side of his head, Benjamin laid down in his bed, shutting his eyes with a sigh. It stung, didn’t it? The injury, obviously, but the realization that he had lost everything he held near and dear to his heart stung more than any concussion. No matter how painful -- Rose always did have a good arm, didn’t she? --, the realization of the loss hurt more.
A photograph rested on his nightstand, one of the Stratfords and Benjamin at the Paper Stand when they were younger. Teenagers, Benjamin only seventeen at the time, the Stratfords a little younger than him. They shared matching grins, although Rose was sporting a black eye from a tussle with someone earlier in the day. It was from a time when they were carefree, just children, trying to make their way through life.
Benjamin thought it would be forever then. So did the Stratfords, so did Samuel -- he told Benjamin so one night when the two of them sat up on the fire escape of Benjamin’s family’s apartment, alone in the universe except for each other. It was going to be forever, too, until the late summer of 1835.
That childhood wonder was gone. This was the real world, and Benjamin didn’t have time for fantasies of the moon.
With all the energy he could muster, Benjamin took his arm closest to the nightstand and pushed the photograph off, squeezing his eyes shut as the frame hit the floor, the glass panel shattering. He would deal with that in the morning, but not now.
No, now was the time for rest.
“Rose, why did you pack a printing press plate?”
They were on the boat to South America, Samuel sitting across from Rose on her bed as he helped unpack her bags. For some reason, his twin had decided to bring the oddest collection of things, one of which included the press plate. It was too big for her bag, so she’d wrapped it in brown paper and tied it with a string to mimic something less… odd.
Rose, evidently, did not think this was out of the ordinary. “It’s a souvenir.” She hummed, taking her alarm clock out of her suitcase. “And a warning. But that doesn’t matter, what matters is that I have it, just in case anyone-”
“Please don’t knock anyone else out, Rose.” Samuel sighed and put the plate down on the ground of the cabin. “Speaking of getting knocked out, did… you talk to Benjamin before we left?”
The silence that followed the question told him everything he needed to know, and something cold settled in Samuel’s chest. Regret, he recognized, that gnawed at him from the inside. It was painful, agonizing, to realize that he had lost his best friend.
That it was his fault.
“Hey, Sammy?” Rose’s voice was softer now, gentler. His sister, this time taking her place as his elder sister, if only by a heartbeat. He looked up to meet her eyes, and she gave him a small smile, reaching across the bed to take his hand. “It’s okay. He’ll come around.”
“We can’t lose him, Rose. He’s…” He’s my best friend. Samuel swallowed back the words, but Rose could read them in his eyes, he knew she could. And of course, she understood, squeezing his hand before pulling away.
“You know what you can do, baby brother?” From her back, Rose produced a small parcel wrapped in the same brown paper as that printing press plate, tied with blue string. “Consider it an early birthday present, from me to you.”
Samuel frowned, taking it. “What is it?”
“Open it, dummy.”
He obeyed, untying the string before unfolding the paper, and all of a sudden, he was holding a new notebook. Light brown, leather-bound, one that felt… right. And within the pages, slips of paper -- postcards, from places he’d never been. Probably acquired with John’s help, Samuel supposed. “Rose, I…”
“Don’t thank me. Just write, okay? I know you, and I know how you express things. Writing is good, y’know? So write to him.”
Words bubbled up in Samuel’s mind, crashing one on top of the other in his mind like the waves outside the cabin window, but Rose pushed his shoulder. “Don’t wax poetic in here, I gotta unpack. Get to writing, brother dearest.”
What could he do but listen?
A month after the events had unfolded, after Benjamin had lost everything, a letter arrived to his apartment. A postcard, in familiar handwriting that made something stir inside of Benjamin’s chest. Something that terrified him to even think about. Samuel Stratford was in his past, and he knew that.
And yet, there was some part of him that wanted to open the door to the past and read the scrawl on the postcard. Drown in Samuel’s words as he had when he first read the journals the Stratfords had offered to publish.
He shut that away, taking the postcard and tossing it into the box beneath his bed without so much as looking at the words written.
The next week, another postcard. From somewhere that Benjamin had never heard of, somewhere he doubted Samuel had ever been. And once again, that same messy scribble that he’d grown to know oh-so-well.
And once again, that postcard ended up in the box beneath his bed.
Week after week, Benjamin found himself with a new message from his old friend. Sometimes Rose would write, but he never read what either of them said. He couldn’t bring himself to, it was as though there was some invisible force holding him back from everything. He couldn’t even look under the bed to toss one of the postcards in, on the Stratford’s birthday, and ended up putting it in the drawer of his nightstand.
It was the worst. It was miserable, it was painful, and it was tempting. Little by little, he was being broken down by the friends who still loved him, even if they were a world apart and he had broken their hearts.
Eventually, it became too much.
The next postcard had a photograph attached. Rose and Samuel, sitting together, smiling at the camera -- Samuel’s smile was so bright, and Rose’s matching perfectly, both of them… Benjamin read the postcard.
It had four simple words on it, much less than the others. And yet, why was it this one that moved him to break his vow to stay out of contact? He couldn’t tell.
“Wish you were here!”
I’ve heard that it gets cold at night there. Or perhaps you said so in one of your postcards, you sent so many that I get them confused. I don’t mind, though, it was nice to read your words again. You have a way with them. It’s nice.
Back to the subject of my letter, I fear you and Rose haven’t packed warmly enough for the trip. I don’t quite know how cold it can get, but with this letter, I’ve enclosed one of my jackets for you and a sweater for Rose. As well as this, I’ve sent an assortment of teas from New York, as I’ve the suspicion you haven’t any.
(The jacket is the one you borrowed last spring during that chill, you mentioned that you liked it. I hope that still rings true?)
Stay safe. And give my love to Rose, make sure she stays out of trouble. You stay out of trouble too, you’re not exempt from my worry.