By Tiger 2/14/07
Summary: Ben remembers as he fashions his courtship letter to Felicity.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the American Girls, they belong to the Pleasant Company. I do however own the plot of this story and would appreciate being told if it ends up somewhere other than here. Thanks!
Snip. Snip. It was quiet in the house. Snip. Snip. All Ben could hear was the rustle of the paper and the snipping sounds of the embroidery scissors.
Snip. He remembered her questions as she fired them at him, when she was nine and he was thirteen.
"What is it like to be a boy, Ben?" she asked as he stocked her father's store with the heave product boxes of tea and bolts of cloth on the shelves.
"Hard and heavy work," he had muttered as a particularly heavy case of brandy threatened to slip from his fingers. He couldn't help but feel a little gratified as the weight had lightened when two nimble hands slid next to his and carried some of the weight. He was glad for it. His sister and her friends would have only stood there and laughed while the case slipped from his hands.
"But not terribly boring," Felicity had remarked after the case was safely on the shelf. "At least you're out there, meeting new people, learning to read and write the most interesting things." Her voice had a bit of wistfulness and sadness that caused him to look at her. She was only a child, true, but her blue eyes seemed to bore right through him. He would never really understand what it was to be a girl, but he felt that he understood Felicity better. What must it have been like for her to be so curious and vibrant only to be held back by society?
"I could help you, you know. To learn to read and write those interesting things," he offered. He didn't know how she would react; he didn't even know why he offered in the first place, where was he going to find the time to do it? At any rate, the offer was already made and it wouldn't hurt to keep practicing the education his father had given him.
"Would you really?" her eyes had sparkled and she jumped for joy.
"Of course," he answered with a small smile of his own.
Snip. Snip. Well, the figure holding the book didn't exactly look like what he had in mind, but it was close enough. It would look better when it was painted. He moved on to the next portion of his piece. Snip. Snip.
"If you hurt her, I'll-I'll kill you!" What a night that had been, both terrifying and pleasant.
What on earth had possessed him to say such a thing? And why had he felt the way after her assurance that Jiggy Nye was nothing to worry about? Because she hadn't told him. They were friends, good friends, despite the fact that she was a girl and he a boy—her father's apprentice no less. She hadn't told him, and she used to tell him everything. After all, he had known about Penny before anyone else hadn't he? He hated that she didn't think to say anything to him.
He supposed there couldn't have been much he could have done even if she had. He was no horse breeder, only a store keeper's apprentice. All of it was forgotten at the look of wonder that crossed her face every time she saw Patriot.
Snip. Snip. It was nice to know that he still remembered what a horse looked like. Things had been so muddled in the past few weeks, the only thing he had been clear on was her. Everyone had taken care of him when he returned from the war, but her care was the most tender. It was the very tenderness that touched his heart and made him realize.
He finished cutting the paper and set the embroidery scissors aside, looking over at the set of paints her father had brought to the room for his use. He shuddered a little at the memory of that particular conversation. He had heard stories about fathers being an absolute raging nightmare when being asked for their daughter's hand in courtship. Ben had rapidly come to the conclusion that the quiet ones were even worse. They would just stare and let you sit in discomfort while they made their judgment. He was quite sure that he would have started shaking the entire bed out of fear had Mr. Merriman not broken into a smile and congratulated him. Staring down a line of lobster-backs was one thing, waiting permission from your beloved's father was quite another.
Swish. Swish. Ben swirled the paintbrush in the paint pot. It was almost done, and almost time for her to come in. Blast. The paint had dripped into the table beside his bed. He wiped it off with a handkerchief he fished out of his pocket before groaning and realizing just which handkerchief it was. Swish. Swish. He started painting his paper cut out.
"Oh Ben, promise me you'll be careful!" Ben was silent for a moment, just watching her face contort through a range of emotions. Hope, pain, loss, love. Love? That last one went by so quickly that he wasn't sure if it had been there at all. He wasn't even sure of his own feelings let alone hers.
"I promise ," he solemnly stated and reached out to embrace her, and to seal his promise. What was it that you were supposed to feel for you master's daughter? Affection he supposed, but nothing greater than that. Yet out of all of the people he would leave behind to fight in Washington's Army, she would be the one he would miss the most. She had just turned fourteen to his eighteen, already a budding young woman, soon to be of marriageable age in two or three years. He didn't have time for such thoughts now, he had to go. He felt her squeeze his hand back and pressed her cheek to his.
"I'll be here, waiting for you when you come back. I promise," she whispered into his ear and let him go. Her voice had choked up and her eyes became bluer with her tears.
"I won't hold you that promise, you're much too young for that. But I think you anyways." He kissed her cheek. He really couldn't expect her to wait for him when he didn't even know if he would ever be able to come back.
"Goodbye, Felicity," He squeezed her hands and turned to leave the house. It was only her hand on his arm that stopped him from actually leaving.
"Ben, I meant what I said." Her voice was low and firm, her face resolute. Suddenly, she was much older than her fourteen years.
He swallowed. Hard. He had to remind himself that she was the sort of girl who liked to do things on her own. It was partly his fault. Didn't he teach her how to be a boy while Mrs. Manderly taught her how to be a gentlewoman?
"Here," she wrapped his hands around something soft. "You never know when you'll need a clean one, boy or not." He stared at the Virginia Cardinal embroidered on the handkerchief. It was the first she had made at Mrs. Mandery's. The one he said suited her so well. He stared even more at her when she stood up to the balls of her feet and kissed his cheek.
"Come back to me, Ben," she pleaded softly and left to get ready to work in her father's store.
"Goodbye," he said to the empty air, hand to his cheek. Somewhere, underneath the soft veil of womanhood Felicity exuded, sprightly, spunky, Felicity was hidden.
Swish. Swish. It was almost done. He painted another scene and blew on it to dry the wet paint. He looked at the finished letter with a certain amount of satisfaction. Six hours of drawing, cutting, painting, and hiding the card from Felicity had certainly paid off.
He wasn't sure how she would take it when he asked. She wasn't fourteen anymore. She was seventeen, and very much a woman; things probably changed in the two years had had left. Now that she was older, he wasn't sure if she still meant what she had said to him before he left. Then again, he left as a boy with no pictures of bloody deaths behind his eyes, no ugly battle scars on his left cheek, no bullet wound in his leg that caused him to be bedridden for the next several weeks. Dr. Galt's orders of course. If it had been up to him, he would be out of bed by now.
But she had taken care of him; had tenderly kissed his mangled cheek and changed his leg dressings and looked at the horrid wound without a shudder or a look of pity in her eyes. She had hardly left his bedside, taking her meals with him, reading and talking with him. She only left when she had to. Perhaps the only things that had changed since he left was that he had become a man and she a woman. When he really looked at it, he was still Ben and she was still Felicity.
"Ben," a gentle voice chided and he felt something wake him with a small shake of his shoulder. "I know the medicine put you to sleep, but you must eat your breakfast now." Breakfast? He must have fallen asleep. He could smell the warm sliced bread and fruit jam. He shook his head to clear it of drowsiness.
"Tis a good morning, Felicity, is it not?" he smiled sleepily at her.
"It has been since the war ended," she said quietly. Since you came back, her eyes told him. Funny how he never realized he could read her so easily.
He held out his letter, thankful that the paint mistakes had gone to his hand rather than the page. "Here, read this first please." She took the paper from him without a word. The sheet rustled as she opened it and traced the cut and painted scenes with her fingertips.
"It's beautiful," she praised softly. "I didn't know you could make such things." Ben smiled, please with himself. He held his breath as she turned the circular piece of paper over and over, reading his words and question, once, twice, three times over. He resisted the urge to bark out "well?" just so he could have an answer. Anything was better than the full silence that covered the room. Just like when her father was sitting there the night before.
"You asked my father first, I hope?" her tone was light and betrayed nothing of her feelings.
"Of course," he managed to croak out, He wasn't sure how long he had to hold his breath, or rather, how long he could hold it,
"Her face broke into a wide smile and she took his hand. "Didn't I tell you," she reminded him, "that I would be here waiting for you when you came back?" The morning sunlight caught her ginger-blond hair.
Ben could only take in a much needed breath of relief at her answer before she managed to take it away again with a kiss. He really had to remember that he taught her how to behave like a boy—it was the only way he would be able to figure out when he could safely breathe.
A/N: If Felicity seems much older than her years, it is because she is supposed to be. In Colonial America, everyone had to mature very quickly in order to survive, especially during the War of Independence. Girls were considered marriageable young ladies at the age of fourteen. It was not uncommon for a girl of 16 or 17 (Felicity's age at the end of this story) to be married to a man much older than she for business reasons. Marriages of love, like John and Abigail Adams and Felicity and Ben's future were rare. The four year age difference between Felicity and Ben at the time of their courtship was not.
A/N2: I realized I fudged the ages. There are two reasons. 1) It made much more sense for this particular story for Felicity to be a bit older than she would have been. Having her be 14 at the end of it all made me feel just a little bit squicky; and 2) American manhood at the time of the American Revolution meant that as soon as young soldiers came home, they courted and wed according to their parents' expectations. Patriarchy, not bachelorhood, was the identifier for manhood. It was not socially practical for Ben to have to wait another two years for Felicity to grow up.