Tom suggested that I try connecting with his brother more, but after he saw us in the kitchen, I couldn’t look River in the eye for the next few days. I understood it was paranoid of me to see what was going on as a competition between myself and Meat Head’s family, but that never got rid of the paranoia itself. River, to me, felt like an agent working to convince Tom to leave and return to Oklahoma.
River wasn’t going to stay with us forever. If he left, my boyfriend might have followed. Who could willingly abandon their family twice, especially with the knowledge of them accepting everything?
But I had to try, if not for me, then for Tom.
I invited River to hang out with me, Dill Weed, and a friend I knew through my time spent at Filbert and Comics.
“So he ran down the hill, but when he got to the bottom, he couldn’t stop. The next thing I knew, Alex was flying headfirst into a pig’s ass,” River finished another story about his lesser-known brother, Alex.
The stories he told were borderline cruel. He probably didn’t say anything about Tom because I was there, but that made me wonder what he might have said when I was absent. While River entertained the table, I got a text from Tom asking where I was. I replied, “With Dill, River, and Tanner at The Greenhouse.”
The Greenhouse was the nicest restaurant Meat Head and I could afford to visit, which is why I invited Tanner there. He was a comic book collector with connections to sellers outside of Filbert and Comics. Dill Weed was there because he got an employee discount.
I thought River might have been a good person to tag along. He offered to help pitch my comic. Sadly he seemed more interested in free food than the conversation that night.
“Do I need to pick you up?” Tom texted me back, to which I replied, “River drove.”
It was a wasted opportunity. Tanner left the restaurant knowing more about Stout Family secrets than my comic. Still, I was willing to let the night pass. River didn’t help me, but I learned to handle my affairs alone from then on. As we left the building to find his car in the parking lot, he asked me, “Why don’t you drive?” As he tossed me his car keys.
“Tom didn’t tell you? I have a condition,” I said, catching the keys.
“What kind of condition?” River asked.
We found his car, but I wouldn’t get in it. He stood at the passenger side door, leaving me to stand at the driver’s side.
“It’s hard to explain. I guess I’m afraid to drive,” I explained.
“Why don’t you try now,” he said, opening his door and getting in.
“I shouldn’t, I can’t,” I argued, but when he shut his door, I doubt he heard me.
My hands were trembling as I opened the driver’s side door.
“Give it a shot. It’s easy,” he said.
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” I said, still refusing to get in.
“Yeah? What are you comfortable with?”
“I think you’ve had too much to drink,” I said.
“Then you’ll definitely have to drive us home,” River argued.
I said, “I can’t,” and threw the keys at him.
“Bull shit!” He yelled at me and reached across the car to grab and pull me into the driver’s seat.
I fought him, and my sweater got ripped and stretched.
“Can’t believe my brother fell for you. Gay or not, I thought he had better taste,” River remarked while restraining me in my seat with one hand and shutting the door with his other.
“Fuck you,” I said.
“Fucking drive you pansy,” he said while still holding me down and starting the car.
My heart raced, and I was prepared to break his arm to get away. Between grunting and punching, River took my hands and forced them on the wheel. All the while, he laughed.
“You’re driving us home, or we’ll be here all night,” he said, finally letting me go.
My hands were on the wheel.
A flash of white light blinded me, and everything went silent. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t move; my limbs were stiff. How long was I like that?
When I finally came out of that hell of a white place, I found myself lying on the ground outside River’s car. I was screaming and whaling out. My voice was loud. I nearly broke my eardrums, but my voice wouldn’t die. I couldn’t control it, but the more I realized what was happening, I slowly calmed down. As my crying turned into mumbles, I shuddered from what I assumed was adrenaline shooting through my body and steadily waning down. It was embarrassing but even more so terrifying.
“What the fuck,” River said, standing over me.
There were other people around us watching. I think someone called the police.