Disclaimer: I do not own the American Girl series or its characters.
Always So Quiet
by Mackenzie L.
Since he had returned from the war, Benjamin Davidson had not been the same boy Felicity had remembered from long ago. In fact, he was not a boy any longer; he was now a man, and this was never more clear to Felicity than it was when she watched him saddle his horse and ride free in the paddock. Ben had always been a skilled horseman, but there was something distinctly different in the way he rode now. He had more control, more grace when he mounted the animal, and he never stumbled when dismounting.
He held the reins and stared ahead like one who knew where his path was leading him. He was more self-assured, more confident, but no longer as brash and hotheaded. Such qualities of youth were said to melt away with time and experience.
Felicity did miss the Ben she used to know. On the day he returned, she had gone running out to see him, foolishly thinking he would not have changed one bit. Although she was shocked to find him at least a head taller and with a far more impressive physique, this did not stop her from seeing beneath the exterior to the childhood friend she had missed for so long.
If it were up to Felicity, she would have damned all propriety and knocked him to the ground in a violently welcoming embrace. But Ben had acknowledged her with a quiet smile and a tip of his hat, addressing her by her full name in that infuriatingly soft voice of his, "Felicity."
Ben Davidson had returned from the war, a wise, mature, heroic patriot. Felicity could not help but feel somewhat shy around him now. He had been kind enough when greeting her, but there was something missing between them. Their youthful energy and forthrightness had dimmed with the onset of age. Although they had exchanged letters nearly every other month since he'd been gone, it felt strange and delightfully awkward for Felicity to now be standing beside him, face to face again.
The words he had written in his early letters came from the same Ben she knew as a child. Perhaps his heart and mind were still very much the same despite the changes in his physical appearance and behavior. But over time, the words in Ben's letters had begun to change, and in her heart Felicity wanted to deny that she could see the way his sentences had grown shorter, and his script had grown sharper. He had been changing their entire time apart.
And Felicity felt that she had not changed at all.
She still felt like a foolish little girl, trapped in the body of a rapidly blooming woman.
And with Ben finally back, that progression into womanhood had never felt so rushed.
She saw the way her parents would stare at her, whenever she exchanged a word with Ben. Before he'd left for war, Felicity's parents had never spared the pair a second glance when she and Ben were together. Felicity could waltz right up to Ben in her father's store whenever she pleased, and no one would care or even notice.
Now she felt her every word to him was being silently scrutinized by those who listened. Even her sisters and brother had that suspicious but not quite judgmental look on their faces whenever Ben entered the room. All eyes went directly to Felicity, expecting her to be the first to speak in his presence.
The pressure was frustrating to Felicity, who had always wished to be free from such burdens and expectations.
Since Ben's return, Felicity had not had the chance to spend one second's time alone with him, away from the watchful gazes of her family. Perhaps poor Ben was also putting on an act of sorts; perhaps he also felt the pressure to behave a certain way, and to say certain things around her family. Perhaps he worried just as she did. One moment alone was all they would need, and Felicity was sure that things would go back to the way they were before.
Some part of her longed for that moment alone, where she could finally be herself around him again. But another part of her absolutely dreaded it.
She did not know why, but every thought of Ben and the changes he had gone through frightened her as much as they intrigued her. She wanted to know this Ben as well as she had known the Ben from her past. But to have that kind of knowledge, she feared, would prove a burden she was not yet ready for. Something was telling her that it would not be an easy thing to accept. Felicity was mature enough to realize that war may have changed men's bravery and wisdom for the better, but it also changed some things for the worse.
The only way to discover if these things were true was to find Ben alone, and speak with him. With no sisters and no guests and no parents watching them...
Little did Felicity know, that when the opportunity for such a moment presented itself, she would encounter the sudden urge to cower away in fear.
What was this sensation? Why, it angered her. Felicity was never one to be frightened by even the most terrifying people, much less a conversation with her dear old friend.
Yet, when she stood that fateful evening by the stable doors, staring out at the fragrant spring twilight, she could not keep her heart from racing.
Ben was there, alone, leaning against the old wooden fence of the paddock like they used to do when they were children. He watched the horses lazily roam their territory as they always did during the late hours of evening. It was a perfect, peaceful, comforting space to speak with him as she had been longing to... But something in Felicity's throat had twisted round so tight that she feared she would not be able to speak a word when she approached him.
Taking a deep breath of cool night air, Felicity firmly reminded herself that this was no cause to be nervous. Every interaction she'd had with Ben so far had been sufficiently pleasant; why should this be any different?
A tiny voice in her head responded in a whisper, Because this time, you are alone with him.
She shook her head of that little voice and stepped bravely out into the pasture with her head held high. She, too, could be a soldier if she imagined herself so.
Her skirts felt heavier and heavier with each step she took towards the young man by the paddock, his figure becoming taller and fuller as the distance was closed between them. She could see that he wore his blue riding breeches and boots, but no vest over his simple white shirt. Seeing that he was dressed so casually somehow made Felicity feel a bit more confident, and she was able to quicken her pace.
When she finally reached the fence, she walked alongside it until she came to where Ben stood. He did not turn his head to see her, but the way his body subtly grew tense with her approach told her that he was well aware of his visitor.
"'Tis a fine evening, is it not?" she asked, surprised to find that her throat was still capable of producing words despite the tension. Her voice was a bit more shrill than she would have liked, but Ben did not seem to mind.
He nodded once, never meeting her eyes.
Ben was never a man of many words, even before the war. But now that she thought on it, Felicity could not recall having heard him say more than four or five full sentences since he'd come home.
Mostly he nodded or shook his head. And he was not only quiet in voice, but in step as well. She could scarcely hear him walking about in the house or the store, and often he would startle her by suddenly appearing in the threshold of whatever room she was in without a sound of warning.
He was indeed an enigma.
Felicity looked out across the peaceful pasture, fishing desperately for something interesting to say. She planned to somehow lead their conversation into more reminiscent territory, to find a way to remind him of their youth. The best way to do that, she decided quickly, was to ask him to recall a certain memory that they both held in fond regard.
"Do you remember that time when we had that silly quarrel about which was better, tea with sugar or tea with milk?"
She studied his face carefully as he thought on her words, and was pleased to see a small smile cross his lips as he recalled the incident she was bound to mention.
"Aye," he murmured.
"I became so cross with you that I kicked that sack of flour off the shelf in the storeroom, and you covered your own shoes in the flour so that Father would blame you for the mess instead of me."
A soft sound of amusement came from Ben's direction as he shifted his arms on the fence. "I remember, Felicity."
Felicity glanced down at her hands, then back to Ben in curiosity. "I always wondered why you did it."
His face became serious then, and Felicity was very confused by the almost melancholic expression that tainted his features.
Still, he did not look directly at her.
Felicity often wondered why Ben had trouble looking her directly in the eye. He had always been that way, ever since he was young.
"I wanted to protect you from getting into trouble," he said quietly.
"Why?" she tested softly. "Perhaps I deserved to get into trouble."
He shrugged one shoulder and turned his face down sheepishly. "I suppose I only wanted you to...admire me."
Felicity was certain that she had admired Ben long before the incident with the flour sack. But her feelings for him were quite different now. Admiration was only a small part of what she felt for him. She smiled to herself as she rested her elbows on the fence and stared distantly out at the horses in the pasture.
"You know something, Ben?"
"I can't even recall which of us preferred tea with sugar and which of us preferred tea with milk."
"I can't recall either," he chuckled. The sound of his mild laughter was awfully appealing – deep and warm – and Felicity wished she could hear it more often.
"Now that my tastes have matured, I must say that I enjoy both equally," she said with a shy laugh.
"Aye, Felicity, I think I would say the same for myself."
As he said this, Felicity's amused smile slowly faded into a frown.
She noticed that he was saying her full name again, with all the syllables and nouns and consonants fully pronounced, almost exaggerated. Fell-iss-it-tee. It felt almost a bit forced off his tongue, rather like someone who was only learning to speak English.
"You used to call me 'Lissie'," she remarked sadly, missing the natural way it used to slide off his tongue.
His lip twitched tensely on one corner, as if he could not decide whether to smile or frown. As he thought, his eyes grew distant and glassy, straying across the field.
Finally he spoke, "'Lissie' is a little girl's name. You are not a little girl any longer." He said this almost defiantly, though his voice was soft and steady. "Now that you are a woman, I feel that I must call you by your full name..." Slowly, he turned to look at her. "...Felicity."
Ben may not have been fond of making direct eye contact, but when he did...
Dear Lord in heaven, it was wonderful.
For as many changes she could see in his face, his eyes were the same earthy shade of hazel that they always had been, but now they went far deeper with everything he had seen during the war. They were humble and secretive, dark and stirring. Under the weight of his gaze, Felicity began to feel warm and dizzy.
A most peculiar flashback burst into Felicity's mind, of the day when she and Elizabeth were poking fun at Annabelle in Mrs. Cole's bedchamber. Felicity remembered the silly things she had said while mocking Annabelle's flighty voice, "Let us be married, my darling Ben. And we can discuss questions of general interest all the day long! Oh, I love you, you handsome lad!..."
Felicity had never truly thought about Ben being handsome back then, and yet...
Now she wondered listlessly why she hadn't noticed it before.
Ben was handsome. More than handsome, in fact. The angles of his jaw were strong yet elegant, his brow and his nose were noble and defined, his brown hair was smooth and well-kept, his lips were full and soft...
Oh, how her heart beat wildly at the thought of kissing him! How strange yet beautiful it would be, after everything they had been through and how far they had come. Could he, by some miracle, feel the same stirrings of indecent affection for her?
So sudden the feelings were, that Felicity found herself leaning heavily against the paddock fence, nearly perspiring beneath her layers of skirts in spite of the night's chill.
"Are you quite all right, Felicity?" Ben asked, his voice strained with concern.
His hand reached over and clutched her arm, just above the white ruffles of the sleeve that hugged her elbow. His palm felt awfully warm through the fabric, and it only made the heat spread throughout her body like a fever.
"I...I'm fine," she lied tremulously. "Just a bit lightheaded. I did not eat enough at supper, I suppose," she excused with a light laugh, hoping she could convince him more than she could convince herself.
He let go of her arm when he was sure that she was able to stand alone, and her stomach sank with disappointment as he withdrew his comforting touch.
Ben went back into his curse of silence again, but his eyes did not flit about nervously as they had when he was younger. Now they simply chose a single spot to stare at for whatever length of time he needed to remain silent.
Felicity's heart ached terribly. How fervently she wished for Ben to speak more around her! She wanted him to tell her everything that he was feeling and thinking, not keep it all locked inside. She simply wanted to burst with the strange combination of pity and affection she felt for him now. The emotions were so confusing and conflicting that all she could do was sigh and hope for them to leave her alone.
But they did no such thing.
Ben's words were still echoing in the back of her mind, the more he prolonged his silence. The crickets chirped relentlessly around them and the wind rustled the leaves, but all Felicity could hear was his voice in her head, repeating that same soft-spoken sentence: Now that you are a woman, I feel that I must call you by your full name...Felicity.
Never had her name sounded so beautiful before. She wanted to hear him call for her a thousand times, and each time she would come back to him, running straight for his arms.
Foolish as her thoughts may have been, Felicity knew that something far less foolish was happening inside her heart tonight.
"So you will be calling me 'Felicity' from now on?" she asked him lightly. It always felt strange to say her own name out loud.
"If you would prefer that," he said.
She did not know how to respond to this, and so she cleverly turned the question back on him.
"Must I call you 'Benjamin', then?" she asked, her voice wavering slightly with her youthful defiance. "Is 'Ben' the name of a boy, and not a man?"
To her surprise, he smiled. A calm, frustratingly mature, yet attractive smile. "You may call me whichever you wish, Felicity."
Perhaps this should have satisfied her, but Felicity could only pout.
Ben crossed his arms and tilted his head down to better see her face. "What is that look for?" he asked gently. He had just called her a woman, yet he sounded as if he were talking to a child.
Felicity furrowed her brow as she looked up at him. "You have changed so much, Ben."
Something in his eyes flinched at her words, but his face remained impassive, mildly curious.
"Are you so disappointed in me now?" he asked, his voice weakened by regret.
"Oh, no!" she burst out, a stubborn blush coloring her cheeks. "No, Ben, I did not mean that—" She cut her sentence short with a deep breath, calming herself into a more coherent speech before she continued. "Well, I meant it more that you have changed so much, and I have not changed at all." She hung her head low in shame. "I am still a little girl in so many ways, and you..."
"Felicity." He said her name in that gentle way again, making it sound so delicate and lovely even in his deep voice.
Her stomach did an impressive somersault as he stepped closer to her, one brown leather boot settling just beside her bare foot in the grass. Felicity nearly gasped at the light touch of his knuckle as he nudged her chin, encouraging her to look up at him.
"I know that you cannot see it, but you have changed," he said.
Her glossy green eyes turned up hopefully as he revealed this to her. As it came straight from his lips, and she knew him to be an honest man, she had no choice but to believe it.
"You are not the same little girl I once knew," he said, so quietly that his voice was nearly drowned out by the crickets. She wondered why he felt the need to whisper when they were entirely alone, but she did not mind it. Not one bit.
"No," he said, making such a small, brief word sound so fond. "Have I not already told you that I cannot see you as anything but a woman now?"
Felicity was only half aware that her lips had fallen open, and she could not seem to bring them back together. A tremor ran through her as she stared into Ben's eyes, and confusing ribbons of hot and cold twirled and tangled inside her body.
She was not a woman...She did not feel like a woman. So why did he insist upon calling her that?
"But you... You have seen so much more than I could ever hope to see," she said, gesturing towards him with one limp hand as she spoke. "You know the world in so many ways which I do not. You are a soldier... a patriot..."
"As are you, dearest Felicity," he said adamantly, his eyes turning coppery with a new kind of fire she had never seen before. "You were always the most passionate patriot I have ever known. And I speak as an honest man, even after all that I have seen on the battlefield."
Felicity's heart stopped. "You cannot be honest with me, Ben." Her mouth had gone dry, making it a most difficult chore to speak.
"Oh, but I am," he whispered almost roughly as he came even closer. "Most sincerely honest..."
As the sky above their heads grew darker, Felicity was suddenly very much aware of how intimate their setting was. The air was both humid and cool at the same time, and as the dusk set in, the stars cast a faint, silky blue glow over their faces.
All at once, Felicity felt clammy and breathless and weary all over, much like she used to feel when she went swimming in the river for too long on her grandfather's plantation as a child.
But now that she was grown up, she did not think it an unpleasant feeling.
"I...I do not even know what to say," she murmured breathlessly.
Ben laughed softly, the warmth of his breath touching her forehead because he stood so close. "I have never known you to be the speechless one."
Felicity did not want to say anything, but this may very well have been the first time in her life that she had gone speechless.
"If you truly feel that way..." she trailed off, her voice tinged with uncertainty despite the sureness in his stance.
"I do," he said abruptly, his closeness now bordering being improper. "I feel... a great many things for you, Felicity." Her heart pounced into her throat as she watched the light in his eyes flicker and sparkle like flames on a newborn fire. The muscles in his jaw twitched with subtle regret. "I fear now that my silence has misled you all these years."
His words left her hanging from a string, and she felt she would positively burst if he did not explain what he meant.
"What are you saying?" she demanded softly, just barely able to stop herself from reaching out and grasping his arm.
"I am saying... Out of all the people I left behind when I joined the militia… you were the one I missed the most."
"Me?" Her voice was small, meek, worn thin by disbelief.
A soft smile crossed his lips as he nodded his head, his expression growing slightly nervous. "Now, Felicity, I know that we both have... expectations to fulfill in our lives. I know that things are not the same for us as they once were—"
"Oh, but now that we are together again, things do not have to change!" Felicity interrupted, her arms trembling with excitement and nerves. "Don't you see? This is why I came out here tonight, to show you that I am still the same, to know that some part of you still wanted things to be the way they once were."
"But Felicity, I do not wish for us to go back to the way we were before," he said, a note of confusion in his gentle voice. "That is not to say that I regret those times," he added earnestly. "I will always look back on those memories with fondness, for they made me into the man I am today."
In a habit she had never been able to break, Felicity chewed anxiously on her bottom lip until it felt numb. "Then what is it you want in your life now, Ben?" she finally asked.
"Us," he said simply, his eyes bright, his voice tender and breathless. "You and I—just as we are now. Two people who knew each other as children, and who will continue to... know each other as adults."
His voice became sinfully soft on the last part of his sentence, as if he wished her not to hear the words. She leaned in towards him, intent that he should not hide anything from her, be it hidden meaning or honest forthrightness.
In the darkness she saw a faint color fill his strong cheeks, like the blush that fills an apricot during summertime. Her confusion must have showed in her eyes, for before she could inquire as to his meaning, he was already speaking again.
"Felicity," he addressed her in a whisper, "you must promise me that we will never be parted again, for I could not bear your absence a second time."
All her life, Felicity thought, this was all she had ever wanted. It filled her with a most unfathomable joy to know that Ben had wanted the same thing all along.
Emboldened by the fact that they shared the same feelings, Felicity reached out to cover Ben's hand with her own. "I promise, Ben. I promise."
His eyes widened slightly as they took in the sight of their linked hands upon the fence. "Then your desires are the same as mine?" His voice was almost shaking.
"Aye, surely they must be!" she hissed fervently into the dark. "I never wish to be apart from you again either."
"Oh, Lissie..." As he said her childhood nickname, his voice sounded once again like that of a shy young apprentice. Felicity's eyes fell closed as she allowed herself to sink into the familiar sound, and she felt at home.
Yes, home... Here in... Ben's arms.
He was embracing her. And Felicity felt that she was sinking further and further into his warmth, into the gentle strength and security he offered her through this most affectionate of gestures.
Her face was pressed against his firm chest, her nose buried in the loose white cotton of his collar as his heart pumped faithfully against her cheek. Her arms slipped tentatively around his shoulders, feeling suddenly three times smaller as she embraced him back. She had never been this close to Ben before – to any boy before – and it was intoxicating.
His lungs pressed up into her as he took in a deep breath, and she felt the heat of his exhale fill the sensitive space behind her ear. "You may never know just how deeply I care for you," he whispered, his voice husky as if he had just woken from a deep slumber.
Felicity shivered and pulled back just enough to look into his face. He was so close to her that even in the dark she could see the flecks of amber hidden in his kind hazel eyes.
Her palm reached up to press gently to his cheek, and she was pleasantly astounded when he leaned appreciatively into her touch.
"But I am certain that I feel the same for you, Ben." Her voice sounded foreign to her own ears. It was like something out of a dream, the perfect way her words flowed from her lips, as if they had been meant for this moment since the beginning of time. "I love you."
His eyes burned her, from the core of her soul to the very surface of her skin. They were so full of spirit, so brutally open and honest that Felicity suddenly realized she had never needed to hear a single word from his silent lips to know what his true feelings were. Every part of her was singing for him in that moment, her blood was racing, and her heart was beating more proudly than the drums of the militia soldiers on victory day.
Ben's eyes were hazy with desire, something that Felicity had never imagined she would see in the eyes of her father's reserved and timid apprentice.
"Oh, I dearly hope that I shall think the better of my boldness in the morning!" he said passionately before diving down to take her lips within his own.
If Felicity had not felt like a woman only moments ago, she certainly felt like one right now.
Not all of the prettiest blue silk dresses nor an entire pasture full of copper mares nor the Patriots winning the war for Independence could ever be as fine as this. His kiss was sweeter than ginger cake, more satisfying than the warmest cup of tea, and more exhilarating than riding astride the wildest stallion.
And in the very deepest part of her heart, Felicity had somehow always known that Ben Davidson would declare his love for her in this very way.
For a kiss on the lips was the most silent, humble, yet powerful way for a man to tell a woman that he loved her.
Reviews are finer than blue dresses and horses and Independence Day.