THE CRIMSON FLOW

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Chapter 6.1 - THIRD-TIME LUCKY?

Becky shifted away from the desk, allowing other guests to move forward. She felt they were judging her, which was annoying, but she was also agitated by the whole theft incident.

“I’m not familiar with this hotel,” she said, turning to Riley. “Is it vendor or service in here, do you know?”

“There is a vending machine over there if that’s ok?” He pointed to their far-right.

Becky nodded and made her way over to the machine. “Would you mind?” she asked, indicating he carry the coffees over to a nearby table.

“Sure, no problem.” Once he placed the beakers on the table, he waited for Becky to sit, before he did. “So explain this joke to me,” he said, tearing open a sugar sachet and pouring it into his coffee.

His trembling hand did not go unnoticed, but Becky thought it was understandable after his heroic feat, and he had also confessed to not having the best of health. Poor guy, she mused, while another, unbidden thought also came to mind - Hope he ain’t a junkie.

Her face flushed at such an unfair hypothesis. Just because Riley had a somewhat haunted expression did not mean he was a slave to the needle. Perhaps being on her own in a place so far removed from her quiet, uneventful little home subjected her mind to postulate on the stereotypical. And she thought the guests judged her?

Swallowing back her unfair assessment, she proceeded to answer his question. “Well, I had my bag snatched at a gothic music festival some months ago, and a vampire came to the rescue then.” She looked at Riley. His face still bore surprise - or was it a polite “Who is this crazy bitch?" look? She rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t a real vampire of course,” she lied, awkward.

“No. Of course not,” Riley laughed, but he looked like anyone would on hearing such a ‘ridiculous’ statement - wondering what the hell the crazy woman in front of him was on.

Becky smirked at the irony and as her fingers wrung the tails of her scarf while her other hand reached out to pick up her cup, she felt an inexplicable need to validate her story to this guy. “And the hotel I stayed at there had a break-in.”

Riley looked at her over the rim of his coffee. His brow pinched. “So - you’re a luck magnet, huh?”

Becky laughed and lowered her eyes. “I guess.”

“What brings you to Chicago then?”

Becky was stumped. She stared at the man in front of her, her mind scrambling for an answer. Her eyes drifted to a stand where several brochures were displayed. One caught her eye. “Oh, I heard it was renowned for its museums, art galleries and architecture. I particularly like the look of the Tribune Tower.”

“Ah,” Riley said, taking another sip of coffee. “Staying true to your love of all things gothic, I take it?”

“Sorry?”

“You said you were at a gothic music festival when your bag was stolen. The Tribune Tower is Neo-Gothic in its design.”

“Ah. Yes,” Becky replied, impressed he had made such a connection. It validated her answer and enabled her to take it a little further. “I also heard the nightclubs were quite good here,” she ventured. “I enjoy music as you have picked up on. I liked a site I came across before arriving - The Nitelife. Are you familiar with it?”

Riley shifted in his seat and placed his cup back on the table. He nodded. “Yes, I know it. I’ve been a couple of times myself.”

Becky thought his face seemed strained, but she refused to give in to any more unfair analysis of the man. He had, after all, shown her a kindness, been quite the hero actually. Her mind started arguing with a simmering, irrational urge, then lo and behold, her mouth switched up a gear and erased all common sense. “Fancy making it third-time lucky?”

Riley’s face went slack, and in that instant, Becky realised her boldness was a major mistake. Her innards cringed. “Oh, I’m sorry. You have a partner I take it? Forgive me. I was just thinking - well, I don’t know what I was thinking really. I just opened my mouth and - ”

“I would be - happy to go with you,” Riley said. “I am not involved with anyone, by the way.”

Becky found herself staring at him again, but this time her stupefaction stemmed from a concoction of self-abasement, relief at not offending Riley and a persistent nagging doubt - what the fuck am I doing?

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