B&R16: 6 A.M.
by Dee Gilles
Disclaimer: I make no money from these stories, which are for entertainment only.
Ray's cousin anxiously returned the call to Ben Fraser's cell phone.
Despite the early morning hour, he picked up on the first ring. "Hello?" The sleepy voice slurred.
"Ben, it's Val. I'm sorry to wake you."
"It's okay, Valerie. I haven't been able to sleep, anyway."
"I'm sorry I missed your call last night; I sleep pretty soundly once I'm out. Ray's here. He's in tough shape, though."
Ben exhaled noisily. "I'm coming over."
"No! He's not ready to see you yet. I'm sorry."
"What happened?" Ben said tensely.
"I got a call from Ange. He turned up at Finnegan's in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out brawl. He and a bunch of other guys, including a couple of cops, got tossed in the can."
"Oh my goodness!"
"Good thing Ange had the early shift this morning. At some point, Ray's wallet went missing, and he got knocked out or maybe he just passed out, in the middle of the whole mess. Angie ID'd him, and thought it was best to notify me instead of his sisters or his mother. If Aunt Sophia finds out about this, she's going to blacken his other eye."
"Valerie, I can call a cab and come and get him."
"Don't do that, Ben. He made me swear to not even call you."
"He's ashamed of himself. He doesn't want you to see him as fucked-up drunk, okay? He's talking a little crazy. And he's a extremely angry at you, although I tried to tell him that that's not fair."
Ben sounded like he was in agony. "I don't care how he looks, how he sounds...I just want to see him, please!"
"I know you do. And if I were in your shoes, so would I. But trust me on this one. Ray needs some time and space to get his shit together. He told me about the two of you. Well, actually, he didn't tell me. He did everything but flat-out confess, but I knew what he meant. Ray isn't ready to be publicly outed. It's hard on him. What brought all this on, anyway?"
"Well, Francesca said some things...she said she came by one night, and h-h-heard us...y-y-you know...I presume she told someone at the station, who told someone else, and so forth. We were both confronted about it yesterday morning."
"God, that Fran's got a big, fat mouth. Always was a tattletale. Why not just deny it, Ben?" Val asked.
Ben winced. "Because. It's. True," he said emphatically.
"Sorry," she apologized for presuming he'd lie like anybody else put in that position.
Ben asked. "How did Ray get in a fight?!"
"He didn't start it. It was some cop from another district. Named Stanley something. One of the guys said this guy Stan made some remark about `the fag' who worked at the 27th. Said he'd seen you two making out or something in the parking lot when he went to drop in on his wife who's an assistant DA. All Ray needed to hear was the word `fag'. All hell broke loose. Ray's got a blackened eye, and bruised knuckles. Possibly a broken nose. I'll need to take him to the clinic once he's had a few hours of sleep."
"Let me see him. Please!"
"Listen to me. I've known that kid since diapers. He can take a few hard knocks; it'll be okay. He'll come around on his own, okay?"
"Val...Val, I love him so much."
"I know you do, doll-face."
Benton was a sweet man. It hadn't taken her long to figure out how obsessed he was with Ray. When they had attended the Beethoven concerto together, Ray was all he talked about. He wanted to know everything about him. They had sat in a little trattoria near the lakeshore for two hours after the concert, talking mostly about him. Valerie told Ben so many stories about Ray as a baby; Ray through his chubby, awkward years; Ray as a pimple-faced and gangly teen, and how when he got out of the Army, he was twenty pounds heavier and seemed so grown up. Ray and all his schemes to get rich, make it big. `Val, don't worry `bout nothin'. I'm gonna take care of things', he would always say.
Ben had nodded and smiled. "He says that to me." And in that smile, peering into those kind eyes, Val had felt herself bond to Ben Fraser, because Ray only said that phrase to people he loved.
She got to hear some stories about Ben, too. She got the impression that Ben very carefully guarded himself, and that she was privileged to hear about his past. She could see that Ray and Ben were perfect yin and yang.
She was never completely drawn to men, had never quite understood the allure. Even so, she fell in love with Ben herself that warm and glowing afternoon-- in her own way. Ben was beautiful. At their first meeting, when she had spent that golden autumn afternoon on the water with him and Ray, she had thought that his eyes were blue, but unabashedly staring into his eyes that afternoon after the concert, she could plainly see that they were an intense gray. Ben's mouth was sensual, and his voice was amazing soft and smooth, belying his rugged outdoorsy persona. She could understand why Ray would put aside a lifetime of social conditioning and wholeheartedly love him.
When they had finally parted company in the doorway of the trattoria that evening, vowing to get together for an afternoon of Debussy and Chopin later that summer, Valerie had impulsively kissed that perfect mouth, and said, "See ya later, doll-face," and the name immediately stuck to him. Ben had turned a perfect shade of scarlet, which made her laugh.
She returned her thoughts to the here and now. "I told Ray he could crash here for a few days, or however long he needed to lie low. He's going to need some clothes. Do you think you could get over to Sophia's and get him a few changes of clothes?"
"He's got plenty of clothes here. He practically lives with me."
"Really? Wow.... This thing is pretty serious, isn't it?"
"Yeah...it's pretty serious."
"Ben, are we talking lifetime serious here?"
Ben breathing sped up, and he did his best to catch his breath. "Yes."
"You can tell me anything, you know."
Valerie was silent for a long time, while Ben quietly sobbed. "I searched with my wolf for him all night. I got in at three, and I've been tossing and turning. I'm scared to death. What if I lose him?"
"I know how you are feeling right now. I was in a three year relationship with a woman who went through what Ray is going through right now. God, she put us both through so much agony. She had all this fear about what she thought was going to happen to us if people found out about us. "
"So what happened?"
"I lost her because she was so afraid. I wish that I could say that everything turned out happily ever after, but it didn't for us. And that's real. That's life."
"I'm sorry," Ben said, his voice steadying. "I didn't mean to fall apart on you."
"You have nothing to apologize for. Listen. I've got to go to the office this morning. I've got a couple of client meetings I can't get out of. But I can meet you for lunch, so we can talk, ok? You bring me a bag for Ray. I'll look after him."
"One more thing. One of us is going to need to tell Aunt Sophia. Do you want to make that call, or should I?"
"I think it's best that you do it. I don't know what Mother knows, so I don't know how she feels about me right now."
`Mother?' Oh, you're in this thing too deep, doll-face. Valerie thought. She had to help Ben make this thing turn out okay. Or he'd be in for the pain of his life. She said, "There's a place three blocks from the consulate, `Speranza'. Do you know it?"
"Can you get away at eleven-thirty?"
"I'll be there."
"See you then, hon. And Ben?"
"'Don't worry `bout nothin'." And with that, she hung up the phone. She headed to her tiny guest bedroom to check on Ray one more time, to make sure that he was safe.
End B&R16: 6 A.M. by Dee Gilles
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