Benjamin sat in his rocking chair with a glass of bourbon dangling very dangerously in his hands. He kept staring at the dark night sky that was devoid of stars due to the heavy city lights. His hair was disheveled and his eyes bloodshot. He looked pensive and somber. He was going through a gamut of emotions. He was feeling raw rage, sheer helplessness, pinching despair, and deeply sated shame. In fact, he was feeling a weight in his heart that was making it difficult for him to breath. He lifted his glass and looked at it. And then in one swift angry motion he gulped down the remnants of his glass. He threw his head back on the chair’s head rest and closed his eyes. A few tears rolled down his cheeks but he wiped them off angrily. He was angry at himself for going weak now. He was angry that he let things escalate to such an extent.
It had been more than one hour that he had come out of Bethany’s room. He had walked into her room late at night with a different intention. But what had transpired between them had changed things completely for both of them. He knew that before tonight they were friends. But now he was not sure. He tried hard to figure out why he did what he did. Why the hell did he even go to her room? He didn’t know. But he had walked out a different man.
The face-off between Catherine and Bethany had taken its toll on the photographer who had holed up in her room as soon as Benjamin had driven her home. She had refused to eat anything and even he had given her time to wallow in her misery. But then, when he had finally lost his patience and figured enough was enough, he stepped into her room.
There she was, sitting at her desk staring at her laptop. She wore a sullen look that made her look like a hurt puppy. Her swollen eyes gave away that she had cried miserably. Her shoulders had drooped – a sign of loss of confidence. Her face had lost the natural glow. Her partly opened lips showed that she was silently calling out to somebody. There was a sense of longing in her pose.
It didn’t take long for Benjamin to figure out what had happened.
“Staring at her again”, he asked standing with his hands in his pockets. That way he could disguise the uneasy twitching of his hands.
Bethany didn’t look up. She continued staring at her laptop.
The lack of response irritated the man and he lunged forward. “You need to stop this”, he banged down the laptop’s screen.
“What the hell are you doing”, Bethany jerked back to reality.
“You tell me what the hell are you doing”, Benjamin didn’t step back.
“Leave me alone”, Bethany replied nastily and opened her laptop again.
“No I am not gonna do that. You need to stop this right now”, Benjamin banged the laptop screen again.
“Stop it”, Bethany yelled now. She looked violent and wild. He had never seen her like that and it scared him.
“You better listen to me. This obsession that you have with her, it’s not good. You need to get over it or else it’s going to destroy you”, he tried to put some sense into her.
“I don’t care”, Bethany went back to her laptop.
“But I do ok? I care because I love you and I am not going to let you destroy everything that we have”, he said with angry determination.
“To hell with your love and care! Just leave me alone”, she spat out venomously.
“B….”, Benjamin tried to hold her shoulders.
“Get out”, the photographer shrugged off the friendly hands and shrieked.
“B please….”, he tried again with more force.
“Get lost”, Bethany swung wildly and hit him.
The impact was hard – physically and emotionally. The sting of the slap left a mark on his cheek. He stood there for a minute staring at her in disbelief. For a minute he just couldn’t fathom what had happened. And when the realization sunk in, he was left distraught. He stepped back and out of the room wordlessly. There was nothing left for him to say. There was nothing he could say.
Now as he sat in that chair with an empty glass of bourbon he felt the green eyed monster rear its head. Yes he was jealous and he despised it. He hated this feeling.
He filled his glass again and came back to the chair. He sat down and started rocking as he thought back to that fateful trip where Bethany had found her obsession.
It was during the aftermath of Catherine’s alleged leak of her mother’s reality that Bethany decided to take off. Her father had stopped talking to her. Her friends were gossiping behind her back. Her professional colleagues had distanced themselves from her. She was bearing the brunt on personal and professional side. She was hurt and lost. And that is when she received an invite from Snaps School of Photography from Bangalore, India. They were planning a photography fest and wanted to showcase Bethany’s work. They also wanted her to be a panelist in one of their interactive sessions.
Benjamin was not very keen on Bethany being a part of it. But the photographer had made up her mind. She wanted to get away from everything and this looked like a good opportunity.
“B I don’t think you should go there”, Benjamin spoke his mind. “I mean what do we even know about this Snaps whatever it is”, he mumbled.
“Snaps is an independent organization that is working to promote photography as a profession amongst the young generation in India. They work with several popular photographers from Asia and showcase their work on a regular basis. For the first time they are putting together this photography fest that they are calling Vision Pic Fest. The idea is to get the photography enthusiasts interacting with photographers from different fields. These interactions can help them identify their specialty and their own style of photography”, Bethany rattled off.
“I am not asking you for their corporate pitch. I am asking you to not go”, he was not happy with Bethany’s decision.
“Benji, I have told you I have made up my mind”, she said as she browsed through the ticket fares online.
“But you can change your plans. It’s not like you are breaching a contract or anything”, he continued arguing.
“I know Benji but I need to get away”, he replied without taking her eyes off the laptop screen where she was proceeding ahead with the bookings.
“I know B why you want to get away. Ugghhh I wish I could strangle Catherine”, he gritted his teeth.
“It’s not her Benji”, she finally looked at him.
“What do you mean”, he looked confused.
“I am not running away because of her”, she said as she removed her glasses and placed them on the table.
“Then why”, he asked looking helpless.
“It’s because of me”, she replied honestly.
“I don’t get it”, she was not making any sense to him.
“Benji, what Catherine did was to save her ass. But what I did was in no way justified. I knew my mom. I knew her to be better than what Catherine wrote. And yet I hated her for her past. I lashed out at her. Dad was right Benji. He could forgive her because he loved her unconditionally. But me, I could not forgive her. Not because I didn’t love her but because I loved her selfishly. I always looked at her as my mom and not as a person. She was never a woman with an identity of her own. That means I didn’t get her that option of making mistakes. And this was in no way a mistake Benji. She did whatever she did to get through the rough times – times that I have not ever known in my life because my dad and mom always covered up for me. And I just like a spoilt brat acted out against them. And honestly Benji I had what I am currently”, she looked pensive.
“B, you made a mistake”, he said.
“I know but that’s what I am talking about Benji. I can make mistakes and expect dad to forgive me. But I don’t do the same to my mom. Dad was right to disown me”, Bethany was visibly upset now.
“He will come around B. Give him some time”, Benjamin tried.
“It’s not he who needs to come around Benji. It’s me who needs to grow up”, she said closing her laptop and packing it up.
“Is that why you are taking off”, he asked.
“Yeah. I need to get away and spend some time by myself. I need to get out of his protective shadow and face the real heat. It’s time I start being on my own”, she replied.
“B, I want to be with you”, he said.
“I know Benji and I appreciate that. But I want to be alone this time”, she said refusing his company.
“I am not comfortable with the idea of you going off to an unknown country all alone”, he tried to make her understand his apprehensions. “I mean you don’t even know anybody there.”
“Isn’t that a good thing”, she asked.
“Not at all”, he looked mortified. “I mean God knows what you might end up stepping into.”
“Benji it’s a good country and they are just people – a specie that we come across here on a daily basis”, she laughed at his reaction.
“I am still not convinced”, he huffed and puffed.
“Did you know that many people visit India every year? It’s not like I am the only one going there”, she sounded amused.
“Uh uh, still not convinced”, he nodded his head in denial.
“Ah come on Benji enough”, she was not tolerating it any more. She had made her decision.
“You will call me from there”, he asked in a tone that made him look like a kid bidding adieu to his best friend.
“As if you won’t bug me if I won’t call you”, she punched him on his forearm.
“I will. But promise me you will stay in touch”, he insisted.
“I will, ok. Now cheer up cry baby”, she laughed.
“I am going to miss you”, he confessed.
“You will get your pay checks Benji”, she joked.
His jaw dropped. He looked mortified at what Bethany was suggesting.
“I don’t work with you for money. I could have done a lot better anywhere else”, he was offended.
“Awwww I was just kidding”, and with that she hugged him.
He remembered that warm embrace that she gave him that evening. The tender hands that held him close that night had hit him so hard today. She had hit him. He still could not believe that his B had hit him. They had seen so many ups and downs together and they had come out strong every single time. Nothing had ever come between them. But today, Bethany shattered him into million pieces with just one action. For the first time Bethany had made him feel that he was not needed around.
It was no secret that he loved Bethany with all his heart. But Bethany? Did she love him? It was hard to tell. He had professed his feelings and declared his love for her so many damn times. And every single time Bethany had smiled and replied that she knew. But she never claimed to feel the same for him. It was as if he was stuck in this vicious circle where he would open his heart to her and she would leave it just like that – open and bleeding.
But could he blame her for it? Just because he loved her did not mean that she should love him back the same way. But that also did not mean he has to face the abuse that escalated tonight. And for the first time he felt that Bethany had taken him for granted and was abusing his love and support.
He pulled out a painting from one of his drawers and stared at it.
It was a drawing of Bethany. It was his secret and he had held it very close to his heart. He had drawn it and he was proud of it. It was his imagination of the love of his life. He had spent so many nights just staring at that painting hoping one day Bethany would accept his love.
He looked at it with teary eyes. What had happened to this porcelain beauty that he had loved for so long? Why was she pushing him away? Why couldn’t he recognize her anymore? Why couldn’t she see that his heart was bleeding for her?
He knew the answers. But he was finding it difficult to admit and accept them. Like so many other things, he was just not ready for this. He would never be ready for this.
He started rocking his chair faster as he remembered the day Bethany called him from the airport.
“Benji, I have landed safely”, she said into the phone.
“Thank goodness you called. I was having a panic attack”, he replied wiping off beads of sweat that had formed on his forehead.
“Do you know you are acting paranoid”, she smiled.
“I don’t care. I am just happy to know that you are safe”, he replied.
“Benji it’s not the first time that I am traveling”, she smiled again.
“But this is the first time you are traveling without me”, he shot back.
“Benji, stop being melodramatic”, she scolded him.
Instead of a smartass comment he just huffed and sighed.
“Alright listen, I need to pick up my bags. I will talk to you later”, she hurried through the call.
“Call me once you check in”, he asked.
“I will. Bye”, with that she hung up.
Benjamin looked at his cell phone and sighed. He really missed her. But he had to let her go. He didn’t know whether it was the right thing to do or not. But he had let her go. And now he had to wait for her to come back. He had to wait for her to come back to him.
But what would happen once she is back? Would she be the same or would she have changed? He felt a flutter in the pit of his stomach. He tried to ignore the feeling. But something gnawed at him telling him that things were about to change.
Something was going to happen that would change the Bethany Hill that he knew, that the world knew. And he would have never guessed in his wildest dream that it would be a shadow that would bring new light in Bethany’s life. And that light was going to burn so bright that it would explode into something that would make Bethany blind.