Another week, and another Wednesday Briefs is upon us. I hope you've been enjoying this Washed Right Out story - chapter one and two are online as well - so please enjoy chapter three!
Washed Right Out, Chapter Three. In which Riley runs from his problems and we met Karen. Prompts used: a character play a video game, pizza, time to take a walk.
Riley turned and ran out of his own apartment building...
"Wait, what?" Sonia stared.
"You walked out of your own apartment, leaving him there?" Her jaw was as slack as it could get without dropping off. "Dear, of all the things—"
"I wasn't thinking!" Riley argued.
"You've got that right." Samantha added, "I would have kicked his ass. Sorry, language."
"Well, I didn't."
"If you wanted to incapacitate him, there's a small cluster of nerves—"
"I'm not giving him a Vulcan nerve pinch!" he shouted. "Can I finish? Please?"
The two step-sisters exchanged perfectly synchronized incredulous glances and raised eyebrows. They really were related, even if not by blood.
"Sure," they both answered. Samantha moved to pat Riley's wet curls dry with a towel.
Riley sighed. "Good. So, anyway..."
Where was he? Right. Back to last week. Riley had fled his own apartment building, his keys and wallet in pocket, his smartphone in hand. He was done with Jonathan, but he didn't want to give up on him, but but but the idea of spending a night with his beloved boyfriend was just too much. It was time to take a walk and re-evaluate his life choices, something like that.
First things first: he put distance between him and his apartment, parking himself in the aisles of a grocery store two blocks away. Second thing: find someone to calm down with, preferably someone with food and a TV.
In his panic, he called someone who would definitely be home and available. So Riley stood in front of the long row of refrigerated alcohol bottles and rang up Karen.
("You called my girlfriend?" Samantha frowned. "Why didn't—"
"Can I finish my story first? I promise, I'll explain."
Samantha's frown deepened but she continued her thankless job of dabbing every dot of water from Riley's hair.)
He didn't even have to tell the whole story. As soon as he asked if she could come over and pick him up and could they spend the night, the moment his voice betrayed his confusion and pain, Karen was there to bundle poor Riley away in the passenger seat of her cherry red compact Audi.
Mercifully, the ride to her shared condo with Samantha was quiet. That's what he loved about Karen. She didn't push the issue. It probably helped that when she showed up in the liquor aisle of Mister Yum-Yum's Groceries, Riley had started blubbering about how dumb he was and he didn't understand his own life.
Her response had been to buy two bottles of vodka and a bottle of the darkest spiced rum they had. Riley wondered how Karen looked as she half-strutted her way to the counter in her combat boots and coveralls, his pale self clinging to one arm, her basket on the other arm filled with nothing but booze.
He was dead certain the clerk was staring at Karen's super short hair, which she had dyed bright blue only a few days earlier. It was the color of her hair, after all, that first attracted Samantha to Karen, although back then it had been a toxic green that surprisingly brought out her eyes.
In the seat of Karen's car, Riley managed to collect himself in silence. He had been a confused wreck, but that wouldn't help anyone, least of all himself. His performance in Yum-Yum's made him look like a hysterical contestant on 'Project: Runway', the kind who sits in front of the camera in tears and with mascara running all over their face because of a single ripped seam.
But what to do about Jojo? Who was Jonathan, really? Now that the scales had dropped from his eyes, Riley didn't have any answers. That would take some time.
As usual, Karen and Samantha's condo looked like someone had dropped merchandise from Comic Con into an IKEA. Riley somehow found room for himself on their couch between the comic books and anime plushies, while Karen busied herself in the kitchen. He felt a little intrusive when he saw the television set paused on a video game menu screen, and couldn't help but wonder why he had to interrupt Karen's life with his own troubles.
His mopey thoughts were broken by Karen's boots crossing the divide between kitchen and sitting room. She flopped down next to Riley, sitting on an over-sized Totoro in the process.
"Hey," she said when she saw Riley's face. "Don't worry about anything. I ordered a pizza, which should be here in ten minutes. And I called your boyfriend—"
"You did what?"
"—and told him you had a family emergency, couldn't come to the phone, but it was urgent and you didn't know when you'd be home," Karen continued. "Of course, he asked why you didn't call him."
"And what did you say?"
"That you didn't want to worry him about nothing, so you bothered me instead." Karen shrugged. "He sounded like he believed. And he apologized about your DVR."
"Did he sound like he meant it?"
Karen's eyes darkened. "Not really."
In that moment, Riley believed her ; in that moment, she was the only one he could believe.
"If you want to talk about it," she added, "that's cool. If you don't, that's cool too. But whatever happens, just know me and Samantha are here for you."
Riley froze. "Don't tell Samantha."
Karen shifted her weight on the couch. A Totoro arm popped out from under her arm pit. "Why not?"
"I—Samantha’s the one who introduced us. If something happens and we break up, I don't want her to feel guilty."
His voice broke on the last word, and he folded, face planted in his upturned hands. He didn't cry; he didn't know what to cry about yet. He just took deep breaths through his fingers and let Karen rub his back in small circles until his mind turned still and quiet again.
("Ladies? Ladies! I'm fine now, stop hugging me! My hair!")
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