Status: will update when possible!

Come Live With Me

Chapter 6

I felt like such a bohemian as I knocked on Ben’s door, incognito so any roving paparazzi who knew where he lived didn’t spot some girl visiting him. It was a strange new concept to me, I had to admit.
I wore a low cut, white cotton batwing shirt with some skin tight leggings and my gypsy shoes rather than heels, so that nobody knew whether I was a woman or a man under my huge Gallagher coat.

I skipped up to the doorstep and used the knocker, slipping my map away into my bottomless pocket before he arrived to answer my knock.

“Jenny!” Ben’s cherub face greeted enthusiastically, before he grabbed my arm and pulled me inside before I had the chance to say anything else.

“’Hi’ to you too!” I laughed as he pulled me towards the living room, past the pretty wall hangings and patterns. I could smell some food cooking, so I presumed he was going to keep me here for dinner. I quietly panicked internally as I wondered how my mum would be, staying alone for the evening, but remembered I had picked up her new prescription so she would be sitting at the kitchen table until I got home, by which time she’d be on her comedown, ready to yell at me. So be it; I wanted to have fun and be around Benedict – steal a few truly happy hours so that I could remember what it felt like when I was sad.

He let go of my arm as we reached the living room, pushing me into the middle of the empty space. The curtains were closed but a lovely breeze was blowing through the open window behind them.

“Close your eyes.” He commanded. I did as he said, smirking at his being so cagey.

“Ben, what is this?” I questioned, scrunching my eyes together as he had asked.

“Hold your hands out. Go on!” Ben said, seeming more excited than I was about whatever this surprise was. I did as he said and felt him put a box in my hands. I gulped, realising he’d bought me something I wouldn’t be able to accept.
“Open them!” I opened my eyes to Benedict’s eager smile, the laughter lines around his eyes making an appearance. I looked down at what he had put in my arms, biting my lip at how thoughtful but unnecessary it was.

“Oh, Ben, thank you but... I can’t let you give me this. You don’t need to buy me anything, ever.” I said, my eyes crawling over every inch of the box containing a sleek looking, rechargeable travel DVD player. A smile spread across his prettily shaped lips.

“I bloody knew you’d say that, so I took the liberty of finding a second hand one so you didn’t have to worry about me spending much money.” He smiled smugly, his hands behind his back as he rocked slightly on his feet. My perplexed expression morphed into one of absolute gratitude and admiration of the adorable, generous man standing in front of me. My usual defences dropping, as they so often did around Benedict, I put the box down on the armchair and lunged at him, wrapping my arms and legs around him, cuddling him like my life depended on it. Those almost too familiar arms circled my torso and his hands rested on my back, as my eyes dampened at his generosity and consideration. This probably seemed weird to Benedict – it was only a second hand DVD player!

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I squealed as I rested my chin on his shoulder.

“You’re more than welcome.” He mumbled back, his rumbling whisper sending shivers down my spine. That moment felt so tender, just for a little while, so nice to feel his breath on my neck... I blinked out of my trance and slipped down from his grasp, my defences returning as I realised I was getting closer to the man than I felt comfortable with. My shortness became apparent as I looked up at foot-and-a-bit taller Benedict, while he smiled warmly down at me.

“So is this the reason you called me away from my incredibly busy schedule, sir?” I said, taking my coat off as I made my way to the sofa, folding it up next to me as I sat down.

“Actually... I was wondering if you’d have some dinner and a glass of wine or two with me?” Ben asked nervously, looking at his feet more than at me. From what I had heard through the week, he had girls falling from trees for him – why on earth was he nervous asking one 17 year old girl for dinner?

“I’d love to,” I admitted, knowing full well he was going to ask me that anyway.
“Though, I can’t stay too late. I have to get back to my mother before she does someth- goes to bed.” I saved quickly.

Dinner passed and I was completely and utterly lost to Benedict. He could cook lasagne like an Italian chef, chat to me properly – like there wasn’t even an age gap; almost as if I wasn’t a teenager, but an intellectual equal. I wasn’t into the things normal teenagers were – I read Dostoevsky and Freud, while they read Heat magazine. I learned about unknown bands while they went to stadium gigs. I found out Ben was 37 years old over the wine and food. He was glad to hear that my 18th was in just 2 and a half months time and said he wanted to take me for my first legal drink - provided someone hadn’t already asked. I confessed I wasn’t very popular and nobody really knew about my birthday this year – I was just going to buy a cheap bottle of Cava and drink it in my bedroom. I also told him I would like very much for him to take me out.

We were merrily starting our third bottle of ever-so-slightly pricey red wine between the two of us by 7 o’clock, and were sitting on the sofa; me with my knees up, bare feet enjoying the softness (rather than the fraying, threadbare sofa at home). Benedict was facing me, a glass of wine in his hand and a hazy look in his eyes. We’d talked about Ben’s career, the teaching he’d done in Tibet, all of the people he knew from the industry that I had never heard of. He picked out some copies of movies and shows he was in and told me to research with my new DVD player while he was away for the weekend – and also sacrificed his copy of ‘Valley of the Dolls’ for me. Ben told me he was going to the Oscars the coming weekend, and that he was terrified as he hadn’t ever been to such a prestigious event before. It all sounded so magical to me. I had tried to keep him talking so that I didn’t have to say too much about myself – luckily, though he thought himself boring, Benedict was interesting to listen to. I hadn’t even thought to myself ‘wow, I’ve gotten away with this’ when he looked up at me and asked:

“So what is it with you and your mother?” He asked, sipping from his glass.

“What?” I said, following a nervous cough and my heart stopping for what felt like a million years.

“Well... you always seem to need to be home to see how she is, and the other day at the coffee shop, you told me that you were like ‘her’ mother...” He said, hesitantly, sensing my inner terror at his question. I gulped as I realised he had remembered that from all that time ago. I looked around the room trying to find some kind of excuse not to remind myself about my home life. I spotted a CD player and took my chance, knowing I could never go wrong with music.

“Wow, well, why don’t we have some music? I think I saw a Roy Orbison CD over there, I’ll put her on.” I smiled nervously, as I reached the stereo and picked out the CD I saw from the top of Ben’s vast collection of music. I slotted it into the player as I felt familiar arms wrap themselves around my waist from behind, and I put my head down so that he didn’t see my tears as Orbison’s soft vocals started to play quietly.

“I know there’s something you’re hiding. I want you to feel like you can be honest with me; I even told you the story about the woman rubbing an onion on my bum. Come on.” He whispered as I put my hand on top of his at my naval.

“Okay,” I whispered, wiping my eyes and swallowing with difficulty , my running mind soothed by Benedict’s calming voice and aura as he led me back to the sofa.

“Well, I used to live with my mother and father in a big house, lots of beautiful paintings, a nice neighbourhood,” I began, seeing images of myself running and dancing with my father as a young girl, piggy back rides, the beautiful decor my father had chosen for the house we lived in. I saw the parks we used to visit, the pet dog we used to have and my – healthy - mother smiling by our side... I wiped away the tear and carried on, wanting to get this over with so that I had it off my chest.
“But as soon as I turned 17 last year, my father decided it would be a good idea to just abandon us, divorce my mum and marry this 20-something supermodel, leaving us unable to afford the house or the luxuries we had before – like TVs, days out, things like that. So we were eventually evicted and forced into a tiny council flat – where we live now,” I went on, not really looking at Ben for fear of out and out sobbing. It seemed like he wasn’t bored, so I carried on.
“My mother is... well, she has a lot of problems; mental health, that kind of thing. Ever since my Dad left, she’s been declining – she relies on uppers and downers to get by and control her mood swings, that kind of thing. I have to look after her; pick up her prescriptions and welfare cheque each week, buy the groceries, clean and cook. I’ve coped for a year; nobody really knows that I’m technically her carer. Well, you do now, but...” I confessed everything, looking into my lap, feeling depressed about what me and my mother’s life had become in just a year. I looked up at Benedict with a fake smile, deciding to pretend it was all okay as I usually did.

“You wonderful, selfless girl,” He said, eyes glistening with tears. I didn’t know my story would affect him so much...

“What?” I said, confused at his response as he moved somewhat closer to me.

“You do all of that yourself; handle your mother, her conditions, the money, cleaning the entire house... you’ve had to grow up so fast, while your dad swans around with some girl only a few years older than you are now, all the while completely ignoring his daughter.” He said, looking at me with an admiration I had never seen reflected back at me before about what I just ‘got on with’ every day. My Dad had left me, and my Mum never really showed me any affection anymore – she was always doped up or pissed off... and yet here was Benedict, who was from a nature so superior to my own but seemed to be the only one who gave me the time of day and listened to what I had to say.

“This is getting a little heavy... I mean, shall we just have some more drinks?” I said, trying to turn attention away from my home life now. I was embarrassed and I felt exposed to the world for revealing the life I’d tried so hard to keep secret from everyone for a year. Benedict smiled and moved back to where he was sat originally.

In all fairness, the alcohol was beginning to go to my head a little, so I stood up and started to dance to the music playing quietly from the stereo. I just swayed like Janis Joplin, sipping from my glass of wine and letting my limbs go loose, not caring about anything anymore in Benedict’s presence – it was as if revealing most of my secrets made me feel free, like I didn’t have anything to worry about just for a little while because it seemed like Ben wasn’t going to desert me, as everyone else did – physically or mentally. I sang along to ‘You Got It’ towards Benedict, as he watched me, smiling.

I watched him stand up as I danced, and he approached me, silently taking my glass and putting it down on the table. He put his arm around my waist, pulling us closer together. I shivered at the feeling of his arm around me, resting on my hip, forcing our bodies closer together; I was actually enjoying it. By the time I realised how very short I really was (5’2 to his 6’0), there was no space between us anymore. I could smell him, that beautiful smell that I had tried to hold on to from the last time I came here. Ben’s height made me feel safe, along with his beautifully large hand resting on my hip, and the warm smile he was giving me. Ben lowered his head, as I realised what was happening – he kissed me. Softly, our lips played together, our tongues stroking and timidly discovering each other. My mind swam and couldn’t concentrate as I clutched onto his shoulders, pulling him closer to me while his hands roamed my back and held me tight. It was such a phenomenal feeling, one I couldn’t remember ever feeling before in my life.

“It surprises me, really, that you say you’ve not had a proper boyfriend amongst all the fooling around. I presumed some guy must have made a pass by now. You’re so radiant.” He said, complimenting me as I watched a mother cradle her newborn baby lovingly on Ben’s TV, admiring the beautiful exchange that I longed for from my mother.

“Ha! Thank you, wow. Um, well boys have made passes... Drunken attempts mainly, you know, at parties. I just had personal guards up I suppose, because I know that people can and will just abandon you. But think about it; there’s so much I can learn from you - that I’ve already learned from you. I want to experience all of these new things with you, Ben. I’ve never been this open or felt this way with anyone before.” I said, feeling like a dripping tap.
“So, you’re going to the Oscars this weekend?” I smiled, changing the subject to something a little lighter for a first kind-of date.

“Yeah, I’m presenting an award. Actually, if you want to you can come round here and watch the ceremony on Sky Oscars; I bought the channel especially to record it. I’ll give you a spare key and you can kip in my bed – it’s on quite late, I mean, so you’d have to sleep here on your own.” Benedict offered kindly, clearly excited and wanting the extra knowledge of more people back home watching for the moral support.

“Um,” I began, weighing up the pros and cons in my head. If I did, I’d get to know Ben’s house and feel a lot more comfortable here, but then how would I care for my mother and avoid being seen coming out of his house? I decided it was probably a bad idea.
“No, I better not. I mean, I’d love to, but my mother needs me and she’d only wonder where I was the whole time. Plus, if any of your friends or family randomly came by to drop something off or whatever...” I said, wanting to more than anything but knowing I wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

“Mm, I suppose so.” He said, disappointed, playing with strands of my hair as we carried on watching some tedious reality TV that apparently dominated Channel 4 nowadays. It’s not how I remembered Channel 4 – well, when Dad allowed me to watch it.

Resting my head on Ben’s chest and feeling it rise with every breath, I felt truly happy, calm and comfortable. For the first time in my life, my eyes could see. Out of the rubble of my slowly crumbling family life came Benedict to put out the flames, hand out the care packages and rescue me.