Listen, y'all. Here comes the latest installment in my Wednesday Briefs series, Washed Right Out. In this chapter, Riley receives an unwelcome surprise. I hope y'all like your flash fiction tense cos this is t-e-n-s-e. Enjoy!
Washed Right Out, Chapter Seven. Prompts used: tall building, a character making a promise.
The next time someone envied Riley his job at an adult magazine, he’d have to add that Thursday morning to his growing stack of disaster work days. On the bright side, he didn't think about Jonathan or his own inevitable kidnapping the entire time.
All that changed the moment he came home.
He was sitting on the steps leading up to Riley's apartment building. His figure seemed small set against the towering levels of the complex. Judging by the several overturned empty coffee cups and crumpled fast food refuse, he’d been sitting there for a while. His dark chinos were heavily creased, one pocket out-turned, and his dress shirt was untucked at several points.
Riley's body felt heavy. Around him, the world was moving, but he wasn't. He couldn't.
"Jo—Jonathan?" His nickname for his now-ex-but-maybe-not-no-definitely-ex boyfriend almost tumbled out of his mouth, but he stopped himself just in time.
He—Jonathan—turned his head at the sound of Riley's voice. For a second, the expression on Jonathan’s face was oddly blank, as if he didn't recognize who was talking to him. Then he blinked, and light returned to his eyes—a sharp light, a manic light. Something about it made Riley's skin crawl.
"Riley. Hey." Jonathan smiled, a thin line that didn't reach his eyes. "Funny seeing you here."
Riley frowned. "I live here. You know that."
"Ha! Right. It was a joke."
He slowly stepped forward until he was standing with one foot on the top step, one foot pressed firmly on the sidewalk. Luckily, foot traffic around his place at that time was light, so he wasn't worried someone would run into them.
"Listen. Jonathan. I'm gonna go in now. Please don't follow me."
"It's been over a week, right?" Jonathan tilted his head. "Since we had our first fight?"
"We broke up."
"Couples fight all the time. Did you know it's very healthy for relationships to have occasional conflict? I read it in a psychology journal. I'll lend you a copy."
"We're not a—"
"I've been reading a lot of psych stuff lately." Jonathan continued as if Riley hadn't been speaking at all. "Mythology, too. Fascinating stuff. The Sioux method of dealing with mourning has really helped me out."
Jonathan ran one hand across the nape of his neck—his bare neck. A wave of nausea rolled through Riley's throat. It was quickly joined by a jolt of fear that set his heart pounding against his ribs.
Jonathan had sheared off his long, thick braid of hair, one of the few things about his outward appearance he’d openly bragged about. It had been a point of pride for him. Now it was sitting in a trash can behind a barbershop somewhere, or even in the dumpster at Jonathan's own apartment building. All in the name of mourning, as though Riley was already dead.
"Hey." Jonathan rose from the step and moved toward Riley, arms outstretched, as if he expected a loving embrace. "Welcome back."
Riley shouted a single, sharp word, a word that he’d been choking back the whole time. "No!"
He pushed past Jonathan and didn't look back. The front door to his apartment building was already unlocked, so Riley was able to shoulder his way into the building and through the lobby, nearly tripping on the long rug that led in from the doorway. The sound of the door closing behind him took the edge off his mood, but only a little.
He slammed one hand against the button for the elevator and only began to breathe normally when he heard the familiar ding of a descending car. He wanted to look over his shoulder to see if Jonathan had followed, but his body wouldn't let him. Fear had temporarily paralyzed his limbs, leaving him propped against the wall as he waited for the elevator door to open.
When it did, in a brief moment later that played out as an eternity in his frazzled brain, Riley fell into it, dropping against the inner car wall. He didn't remember watching the doors slide shut, or inputting his floor number, or even reaching his apartment door with key already in hand, but minutes later, he was standing in the middle of his home, shaking.
His phone shook in his pants pocket. He pulled it out to see Sonia's name and face on the screen.
Her British accent was a beautiful thing to hear. "Riley? I came by your work to surprise you, but you’d already left." She paused. "Is everything okay?"
Riley exhaled so hard that his body vibrated. "No, not really. Remember promising to help me if I needed anything?"
"Well, I need help. I really, really need help."
Concerned painted every word from the other line. "What do you need, darling? Anything at all, I'll do it."
He wiped a line of sweat from his brow. "I need to make Jonathan disappear."
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