This was inspired by the song My Secret Love from the In the Heights demo. The second I heard it, I knew I had to write a story about Lincoln struggling with whether he should tell someone how he feels about Benny or not. So this little thing popped out.
Disclaimer: Still not a self-proclaimed 'ugly songwriter who can't get girls to notice him.'
Dedicated to kth524.
He looked at the ticket in his hand, neatly tucked into an envelope where his name showed through the clear plastic strip on the front. The destination was obscured where the paper of the envelope started, but somehow that seemed fitting. Even though he knew were the plane would take him, he had no idea where he would end up in the end.
Anywhere but here, he reminded himself.
Setting the envelope aside for a moment and scoping his room for forgotten possessions, the man heaved a shaky sigh. He licked his lips and cracked his knuckles, then pushed the bridge of his glasses up his nose. He felt the sweat on his nose with his finger and wiped it dismissively on his jeans.
His closet doors were open, showing bare racks and discarded hangers. A single shirt hung carelessly on the doorknob, which he picked up and slipped over his head. The fabric was stiff, a result of him doing his own laundry.
The room was obscured for a minute as he wrestled with the collar. A rather vicious tug aided him in his endeavor, and seconds later he was fully dressed. He picked up the envelope again and tucked it in the back pocket of his jeans, feeling the tiny notebook he carried with him everywhere. This he took out of his pocket, looking at the worn cover and flipping through the torn pages.
There was the first song he had written, which he had edited at least ten times after and had a neat print of in a folder. Some pages were simply covered with doodles while others were cramped notes. Sometimes he found a smattering of lyrics shoved into the corner of a page or pasted on to make room. There were pieces of notebook paper attached with crooked scotch tape, which he lifted up to see what laid underneath.
Ah yes, he remembered those. A small chuckle escaped his lips as the memories of those silly days when he had been paranoid that someone would read over his shoulder, and yet he still had to write everything down. Turning page after page, he realized just how much he had struggled with his feelings.
You still do, loser, an unwanted voice reminded him. Closing his eyes and shutting the book, he tried to forget the face now swimming into view, tried to ignore how his stomach was doing a sequence of gymnastics. Taking several deep breaths, he opened his eyes and the book simultaneously.
Flipping to the last page, he read the words on the paper, feeling elated and sickened at the same time.
songs i can't play 'cause i know i'm wrong for you so i'll stay strong and keep these feelings to myself
What happened to that determination? he wondered, scanning the book further down to read 'you are the reason i write on a fire escape.' A part of him wanted to tear out the page, fold it neatly, and tuck it into his pocket with the ticket, but something stayed his hand.
He rubbed his thumb against the page before closing the book and tucking it back into his pocket along with the ticket. Hoisting his suitcase over his shoulder, he exited the room. He made sure to turn the lights off to save electricity. He straightened his glasses before leaving the apartment.
Nobody was in the building; it seemed deserted. Everyone must be at work or out somewhere, which he was grateful for. He met nobody on the stairs and nobody on the street below. Never before had he been so glad that he did not live across the street from the bodega, where his parents had been thinking of moving to for years.
Keeping his head bowed, he crossed over five streets until he came to the intersection of 184th and Broadway. Grimacing with recognition, he strode over to the building where his father's dispatch used to be. He knew that the back door to the building was always left unlocked.
True to prediction, he was able to slip inside. Before closing the door, he looked over his shoulder, as if afraid that someone had recognized him and might follow.
Calm down, he instructed himself, taking a deep breath in an attempt to relax. Mama and Papa are out working, Usnavi and Sonny are occupied at the bodega and didn't see you, the salon moved to the Bronx so there's no chance of any gossip about you later today. And Benny…
Clearing his throat loudly, Lincoln hitched his suitcase up on his shoulder again. He began stomping up the stairs, making much more noise than he should have, as if this would force unwanted thoughts out of his head. He muttered to himself, wishing that his brain was not replaying the night of the blackout over and over in front of his face. He could see flashes of Benny and Nina in each other's arms, seeming so close and solid that he could reach out and break them apart if he had wished.
"No, no, no, don't think about that," he murmured quickly, mounting the third flight of stairs and quickening his pace. His heart was beating against his ribcage desperately and no calming thoughts came.
There is nothing rational or sensible in what you're doing, you idiot, he berated himself. What will this accomplish other than pushing your best friend and sister out of your life? Nothing. Is that what you want?
"Yes," his voice was flat and emotionless, and he stuck a hairpin he had stolen from Nina's dresser into the doorknob in front of him. It clicked and allowed him entrance mere seconds later; the locks in this building had always been easy to tamper with.
He tried to ignore the picture of Nina on the bureau next to the door.
Lincoln crossed the room to where Benny's unmade bed stood. He allowed himself a little chuckle at the sight of the mussed sheets. Benny had never been one to stress over tidiness and it probably did not bother him in the slightest to leave an unmade bed in his wake.
The picture of Benny and Nina on the bedside table made Lincoln jump. Steeling himself, he closed his eyes and swallowed very hard. He pulled the notebook out of his pocket and opened it to the last page again.
my secret love and my best friend
He won't be either of those after you leave this here, he reminded himself. Nina and Benny would both know the secret he had been guarding for years. They would hate him. Maybe they wouldn't believe what they read, but maybe they had already figured it out. Lincoln closed his eyes again, trying to picture Benny finding the notebook.
Maybe he and Nina would find it together. After all, her last week in the Heights she had spent more time at Benny's than at their house. She would come home in the wee hours of the morning, when only Lincoln was awake. She hadn't been good company either, seeing how minutes later she was out cold until she woke up the next morning. Nina would stick around for breakfast and maybe a quick conversation, but Benny would come calling before long.
Benny was always very friendly to the family, minus their dad, for obvious reasons. He always made sure to tell Lincoln hello and sometimes sit and talk with him if Nina wasn't ready to leave. He always seemed so happy and Lincoln felt dirty and guilty every time he had to turn his face to hide a blush. He felt like a voyeur every time Nina and Benny would so much as hold hands in front of him. At times he just wanted to shout the truth at both of them, to watch their bright faces turn into dark frowns.
Would they back away from him, maybe? Would they look at each other with incredulous looks on their faces? Or would Benny leave, thinking it was a horrid joke the two were playing? Would he leave Nina because of Lincoln?
It was this thought that caused Lincoln to look at his notebook again and laugh grimly. He had not realized he was crying, but the page was now dotted and wavy, words smudged and faded so that they were not legible unless the reader already knew what they said.
He tucked the notebook back into his pocket, feeling only slightly guilty for closing the still wet book. Shaking his head and lecturing himself for jeopardizing his sister's happiness for his own selfish needs, Lincoln left the apartment.
How would leaving everyone behind with no goodbye except a notebook full of songs about Benny help, anyway? All it would do was crush any hopes of a happy return he might have.
Rather than take a cab to the train station, Lincoln walked the entire way. He counted each block as he came to it, resisting the urge to stop when he finally came to the theater district to see if there were any tickets left for Phantom of the Opera. He reached the train station covered in sweat and exhausted beyond belief.
Lincoln had walked from 184th street to 33rd, over one hundred blocks, in one day. It was the longest trip he had ever taken on foot. Even in his pensive state of mind, he still had to give himself a pat on the back for this accomplishment.
However, this accomplishment was significantly diminished when he looked over his shoulder and could see no further than two blocks back. It was as if his home had been sucked away. Taking a shaking breath, Lincoln reminded himself that any trip back would be much harder and strenuous, both physically and emotionally.
The little notebook in his back pocket was enough to remind him of that.