Playing with fire

BY S.J. Graham


Ben sat for a few more moments in the chair, not daring to move or even
breathe. What he had just heard on the tape had solidified everything he'd
been thinking about. Every thought that had been going through his head
about his talk with Sean came rushing back to him in a fraction of an
instant. Slowly, he let out a raspy breath and returned the tape recorder to
its place on Felicity's bed against the wall.

He had some thinking to do. And this was not the place to do it. He stood
there, looking out the window into the brightness of this most significant
day and wondered how it was that he and Felicity's relationship had seemed to
change so suddenly. One day, they had been great friends, confiding in each
other and enjoying the trust and comfort of that friendship.

The next day, he had looked at her, over a spilled box of clove and something
had seemed to have shifted inside him and changed his view of her. Her eyes
had begun to haunt him on that day. Her delicate young face seemed to invade
his mind no matter what he was doing. So what was different about her?

He glanced over at her desk. A note. If he were going to go now, he had to
leave her some word of why or where. Grabbing a pen, he scribbled quickly on
a Post It note and turned to leave. He had to go somewhere quiet and be by
himself for awhile. The thoughts in his mind could not be put off anymore.
He had to face them and find out what he needed to do.

Felicity pulled Meghan quickly outside of the dorm room and demanded in a low
voice, "Listen, you have to convince him to get rid of that thing. His
roommate is going to end up in the hospital or something. Did you see that
poor kid's hives?"

"Fine! Whatever." Meghan said roughly, then thoughtfully put a finger to
her lips, "I wonder if I have any spells that require ferret parts…"

"Oh my God." Felicity sighed, "Listen, just tell him to take it back to the
pet store. I have to get back to Ben."

"Oh, I forgot that Prince Charming is awaiting your arrival. Bye now…" Her
roommate replied sarcastically, heading back into the ferret's domain with a
toss of her dark hair.

Felicity shook her head and headed towards the elevator. She hoped that she
and Ben could catch the 3:45 movie. They were supposed to go see "Sixth
Sense" and she'd been looking forward to being with him all day. But when
she entered her room again, it was empty.

"Ben?" She looked around, puzzled. It wasn't like him to just run off.
Then she saw the tape recorder. It wasn't in the same place she had put it
down. She always paid particular attention to where the recorder was at all
times because she wasn't sure that Meghan might not one day just share the
contents of the tape inside with anyone who might walk by, just for her own
perverse pleasure.

Felicity walked slowly over to the bed and picked up the tape recorder. She
closed her eyes. Oh no. At first, she was more embarrassed than anything
else. She was hesitant to find out exactly at what point of the tape the
intruder had listened to. She swallowed the lump in her throat and pressed

"I mean, it's possible. Right? God, Sally. I don't know. I feel totally
different this year. There's this overwhelming feeling of freedom, and
happiness… Maybe it's not love. Maybe I'm just enjoying being with him.
It's given me a certain amount of confidence, I think."

She hit rewind. Love. The word echoed in her head, over and over again.
The word that she had associated with Ben off-handedly for the last few years
seemed to loom up inside her like some devastating tidal wave, knocking over
every other word she knew she'd spoken on that tape. That one word was the
one he'd remember too. And she was nearly positive that Ben had been
purposely listening to the tape. A private tape which was meant only for the
ears of her very best friend in the entire world.

A wave of anger flooded her brain. She suddenly dismissed the movie, and the
anticipation she felt about being alone with Ben that afternoon. He had done
the unthinkable and invaded her personal space. What had possessed him to do
such a thing?

She ran her hands through her hair quickly and turned away from the bed.
There was a neon pink note stuck to the screen of her computer monitor.
Walking over, she peeled it off and read, her eyes growing dark with

I had to go. I'll call you later and explain. Sorry about the movie.


She crumpled the note up in her hand, angrily. Then she looked down at it
for a moment, feeling unusually numb. And completely without direction. She
knew exactly why he had left so abruptly. She certainly needed no
explanation from him, nor did she want one. In fact, she thought seriously,
I don't know if I even want to talk to him at all. Not today. Maybe not
even tomorrow.

Felicity raised her head, tearing her gaze from the wrinkled pink note in her
hand. She didn't have time for this right now. If she were going to stay
in, then she might as well study. With a deep breath to calm herself, she
grabbed one of her medical textbooks and settled down on her bed to read.
She had no intention of letting him get the best of her this time.

For the fifth time that night, the phone rang. Felicity raised her head from
her pillow, giving Meghan a pleading look. Her roommate had already given
Ben four different excuses, each more outrageous than the last.

Meghan picked up the phone again, glaring at Felicity across the room,
"Felicity's Palace of Pleasure. How may I serve you?" She grinned at Ben's
stunned silence.

"It's me again, Meghan. I really need to talk to Felicity. Please."

"Sorry Ben. She's been kidnapped by alien cowboys and taken to the big space
round up in the sky. Oh, but she did say that she's really pissed at you

Felicity shot her roommate a hateful look.

"Well, listen. I know she's there. I'm downstairs in the lobby. And I'm
coming up there. Just tell her that, okay?" Ben said quickly. Then Meghan
heard a click and he was gone.

She looked at the phone with a surprised expression, "He hung up. Oh, by the
way. He did say he's in the lobby downstairs." She put the receiver down
and smiled, "The guy has amazing gall to come all the way over here after
you've been avoiding his calls all night."

Felicity sighed and got up, "I'm going to the bathroom. Tell him I'm not
here. I don't want to see him right now."

She put on a robe from her closet and left the room, heading down the quiet,
darkened hall towards the brightly-lit girls' restroom. It was empty, and
she was glad. She didn't feel like talking to anyone at the moment. She
looked at herself in the mirror and tried to decipher her own course of

Did she love him? She wasn't sure at the moment. How could she love someone
who didn't respect her privacy? It didn't make sense. But she knew that
somewhere within her mixed up emotions, Ben had secured for himself a
permanent place in her heart. Whether he wanted to be there was the real
question. She was afraid of the answer. They were both so young, and she
felt certain that Ben, of all people wasn't ready to accept a lasting
commitment from her or anyone else.

Moments from their summer together passed through her mind like an old movie.
She and Ben sitting on the beach together, talking about people they'd known
in high school and how much things had changed since then. She and Ben
roller blading in the park at sunset, holding hands. She and Ben cuddling up
on her parent's front porch swing and just sitting quietly, contemplating the
future of their possibly relationship.

She lowered her head. She was tired of thinking about this and wondering
about his reaction to the tape. She wanted to sleep, but was afraid to go
back to the room to find him there, waiting for her. With those startling
green eyes looking at her. It was hopeless.

It seemed more than likely that Ben would come to her with an apology.

"Sorry for listening to that tape."

And one more.

"Sorry, but I just don't think that we can do this anymore because I'd hate
to hurt you."

Her eyes began to fill with tears at this thought. Yes, he would probably be
forced to back off after this ordeal, and it would be horrible. Worse than
even last year, because now she knew how wonderfully intimate he could be,
and how caring he was. She knew so much more about him that gave her a real
reason for loving him. And he would surely take himself away, in spite of
all of that.

Sniffling, she shuffled towards the bathroom door and opened it. She would
have to face whatever he said, whether he said it tonight or tomorrow or next
week. It would be there, in any case.

She was a little startled when she ran into someone who was about to enter
the bathroom, "Oh, sorry." But when she looked up, there he was. Ben. His
face looked pale, and his eyes were consumed with some hidden, serious
emotion that she couldn't quite detect.

"Ben…" She stepped back, glancing from him to the bathroom door in confusion.

He managed a tight grin, "I was just about to go in there to get you." His
eyes skipped away from hers in a nervous gesture, "Uh, we need to talk."

"I know," She said weakly, taking a seat on a bench in the hall. She folded
her arms across her stomach and looked up at him, the tears still evident in
her shining eyes. She decided to let him do most of the talking. So often,
it was just her. But it was his turn. And she would let him have it.

He pressed his lips together, and a nervous grin passed over his lips before
he began to speak.

"First of all, I did something I'm not really proud of, and I need to
apologize." He took a deep breath and looked at her directly, "I think you
already know what I did, or else you probably wouldn't be mad at me… right?"

She didn't look at him and didn't say a word. Her eyes were fixed on the
light behind him, which seemed to accent the gold highlights of his shiny

"Anyway," He continued, "I listened to part of your tape to Sally. I . . .
I'm not proud of what I did. I understand that it was the wrong way to find
out what was going on in your head, but … Felicity, I just needed to know.
I had to." His voice was soft. Nearly a whisper, and as she raised her eyes
to his face, she could see that there was a redness to his eyes that she'd
never seen before.

She cleared her throat softly, "You could have just asked me."

"I know, I know. It's just that… well, I was thinking about a lot of things
lately and I wasn't sure…" He hesitated, rubbing a hand over his face in
frustration, "I didn't know exactly how you felt. And, when I heard what you
said …"

Felicity stood up abruptly and shook her head, "I don't want to go over this
with you right now." She started to walk towards her room, but his gentle
hand reached out to grasp her arm before she could leave him standing there.

"Please," His green eyes were pleading, and the catch in his voice made her
pause as she looked at him. She had never seen Ben like this before.
Nervous, yes. But not this emotional or desperate. She searched his face,

"Listen, I understand if you're mad at me. I can't blame you for that. But,
I have to say something else." He said lowly, "You are one of my best
friends. Probably my best friend in the world, Felicity. And yet there's
obviously something else here between the two of us. I don't know how to
define it because I have never been really in love before."

She started to speak, but he pressed a trembling finger to her lips, "No,
please. Let me finish. My parents never had what I would call a great life
together. I don't think that I could use the word 'love' to describe the
relationship between them. So I never really knew what it was. Do you
understand? I don't know what it means. I don't know what other people feel
when they fall in love." He paused, his gaze falling to the floor, and he
sighed deeply, as if gathering the last of his courage.

A moment later, he looked up. Once again, their eyes met and held each other
in serious regard.

"All I know is that I love being with you. I love seeing you smile. I love
hearing you analyze everything. I love holding you in my arms. I love your
voice, your laughter, the curve of your cheek, the funny little way you tilt
your head sometimes when you're perplexed…" He stepped towards her then, and
reaching down, grasped one of her hands in both of his. His skin was cool
and dry, but she could feel the tremors that plagued him now in his agitated

"If that's what love is, then you have mine. All of it, Felicity." He said,
barely above a whisper.

There was only one thing that she could do to respond to that. Only one
thing that seemed to make the most sense at the time. She gave him one of
those smiles that he loved so much and squeezed his hand.


All comments very welcome. You hated it? You loved it? You see grammatical
errors? Let me know.