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Lovesick Hangovers

by Danya Do


“Goddammit Rio, is that you?”

Diane squints through the splattering rain at the filthy man slumped at the side of her apartment. He grunts his acknowledgment, head buried in his soaked trench coat.

She sighs, pinching the bridge of her slim nose. “You okay? Come on, up you get.”

Diane grips his arm and tugs, straining with the effort of hoisting up his limp body. He’s hunched over terribly, as if his spine simply could no longer handle the weight of his bitter misery.

“Rio, you are a bloke of wonderful caricature. But this precious friend-acquaintance of yours has just finished her shift at a hospital. It is 2:00 am right now. I am soggy, tired, and stink of bodily fluids and disinfectant. And frankly, you stink too.”

They stand, and she stumbles a bit, white sneakers catching against the uneven concrete. Her breath comes out in wheezes from exertion, and Rio was suffocating her with the rancid scent of alcohol. They’re both disheveled and chilled to the bone. But he’s standing. He’s standing, even if it’s with his arm looped around her shoulders, and with her strength keeping him up. Diane laughs at the absurdity of the situation, shifting Rio’s weight before steadily making their way into her home.

______________________


“So. You- hmph. How have you been?”

Diane is out of her surgical garments, comfortably leaned and cross-legged on her chair. Rio himself had been forced into showering too, as Diane had told him when she shoved him through the bathroom doors, “get the stench of wine and heartache out of your system because you can smell it from a mile away!” It has been at least an hour since Diane has taken Rio to her apartment and ten minutes since she has waited for his explanation. Now that she has taken the time to properly look him over, she can tell that Rio was still horribly woozy despite the painkillers. Physically though, he is cleaner; the crisp, blanketing clothing, his place by the fire, and the bowl of soup in his paled hands soothing his shivers from before. The steam from the swirling liquid was clouding his glasses, though wiping the lenses free of it didn’t seem to have crossed his mind.

“I’m..an apology needs to be said. For-for you.” Rio sinks into the sofa, stumbling over the words as his eyes train on the contents of the soup. He hasn’t eaten much of it, any of it, the spoon lying untouched.

Her response comes rapid-fire. “Sure it does. You haven’t contacted me for years.” She huffs, a slightly condescending smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I wasn’t even sure it was you, at first.”

“Well-yes-okay. I’m sorry.”

“I was joking, Rio. You don’t have to apologize for anything. Except for showing up at my door at an incredibly ungodly hour, looking like hell ran you over with a mud-covered tractor.”

“I see your imagination hasn’t changed much.”

A genuine grin spreads across her face, grateful for the miniscule distraction of familiarity from his dry response. Diane was trying her best to hide her discomfort with the way things were as of now, curiosity blooming in her chest at his unprecedented absence in her life, then the hurt from not telling her of his whereabouts. It was poking at her consciousness, the tension in the room whispering its paranoia even with her surface-level banter. He had a truth, a story, one she didn’t want to know but needed to know so desperately at the same time, to see if she was worth his friendship after what had happened.

“...I’m assuming you want to know what was going on when I disappeared?” Rio says, startling her out of her introspection.

She blinks rapidly at first before responding, “Well of course. Not everybody drops off the face of the Earth for-'' Diane counts her fingers with deliberate dramatics. “-three full years. Then coming back as if they were dead. And usually not with an alcohol ridden smell radiating off of them, either. I thought you were done with that?”

That seemed to hit a nerve on Rio. Gritting his teeth, he stiffly ignores her poor attempt at a light-hearted jab. “Do you want me to start?”

Diane nods silently, trying her best to hide the sting of guilt prickling up her arms. At least, she convinced herself, he had a taste of what it was like to be...shamed. Expendable. Just like she was. She shoved the thought away.

“My fiance-”

“I thought he was your boyfriend?”

Rio’s glasses start to slip off his nose. He presses his fingers against his temple. “Well, he became my fiance, around a few months prior to me and him eloping. I guess you could call it that? I want to say it’s been on my bucket list, but I never really-”

“Hold up. Hold the hell up. You made Douglas your fiance? You-” Diane glances down at her shaking hands. Promptly, she leans forward to smack them on her face, before pointing an accusatory finger at him. “-you eloped?

“If you would stop raising your voice at whatever o’clock it is right now, I could finish my story and get to sleep off this headache. I’m not even close to done yet.” Rio is clear-headed enough to set his soup down, soup that is still uneaten Diane notes, before shutting his eyes tightly with his dark eyebrows scrunched.

“Douglas and I met secretly. It’s really hard to kiss your significant other when their religious parents are out to get you. I guess all you really need to know is that we planned to elope the day I proposed to him. By some miracle, we managed it and left the country. I don't know why I didn't contact you during that time. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know why I kept you out of the loop on so much of my life either. I don’t know.” He’s as dazed and robotic as he was when she picked him up from the alleyway of her home: mumbling, head drooping, and a wisp of a man. She would have gotten up for more painkillers to soothe his agitated state, perhaps a blanket for his troubles, comforting him with words of honeyed glass. Would of. Should of. She sat in jaded silence instead.

Rio glances up, his Adam’s apple bobbing a bit before he continues. “...We were-we came back here because I got homesick. Really, really homesick. It was so blissful, so beautiful for the first year, y’know? Just me and him and a whole new universe ahead of us. But I had to ruin it, I was getting desperate and I was missing everything I thought I was okay with leaving behind. So I convinced Douglas to return for a month.” He shudders.

“I was waiting in the airport lobby for our suitcases when I asked him to leave for something. And I sent him to his death. I killed him.” Rio’s eyes are glazed, glazed like the frosted donut of Diane’s mushed brain; it was a sticky, sickly sweet that sluggishly dripped and clogged her nose, ears, throat. She was reeling, slow to comprehend the words that were choked forth from his cracked lips.

Her voice didn’t reveal her turmoil, though a nudge of hoarseness clung to the edge of her words. Denial. “You didn’t.”

“I did. Douglas, he-” Rio laughs, a horrible gurgling sound verging on insanity. “-he got caught in a mass shooting that happened in the airport. You’ve probably seen it on the headlines at one point. We were in front of the door, right there, ready to leave after we got our suitcases. And I sent him away. I left him. I didn’t get to see his face, his body after the gun shots fired and the alarms sounded. I was shuffled out with the rest of the crowd. Diane, I left him. Why did I leave him? Why did I send him away?”

He folds over and retches. It’s mostly clear liquid, a strange mixture of his stomach bile and alcohol. Spit runs down his mouth and trails down, down, down to mix with the puddle of his torment splattered on her floorboards. It was then that Diane snapped out of her stupor, rushing over to rub his back, fingers trailing steadily up and down over the bumps that marked the location of his spine. All of the stilted hesitance blew away: he was a man wrung dry of his tears from the cruelty of the world, and she knew now that it was her reason and role to stand here. To piece together the shattered parts of his fragile, crystalline heart, despite her chipped and cracked one threatening to break with his. She was needed.

Once he finished, he collapsed heavily against the front of the chair, spit still trickling down his chin. His glasses were skewed, chest heaving. Still, he went on with a broken voice, “That was…was a few months prior to right now. After I heard the news, I stopped caring. I wanted to drink myself to death. And I was nearly successful, had so many chances to. But I’m a coward, even as a self-destructive alcoholic. I guess I failed him in that way too.” He trails off, transfixed on what he regurgitated just minutes earlier. Diane wished she had something to say that wasn’t as pitiful as he was in the moment. There was nothing except for the crackling of the fire and the rain pounding its rhythms on the muffling windows.

“I still see him sometimes. In my consciousness, hugging me from behind like he always did. His easy gait, walk so stupidly confident I wanted to punch him in the face when I first met him. He always had one hand in the pockets of his trousers, the other looped around my shoulders. I couldn’t fathom the fact that he didn’t go to the gym when he was so toned and slim. His beret that he could never leave without, always so close to slipping off of his head. His right dimple, his dark chocolate eyes, dark chocolate hair, tousled and curly. It felt like petting a puppy, it was so soft. The beauty mark on his high cheekbones. God, he’s so infuriating, so pretty, so infuriatingly pretty. He’s everywhere, he’s in everyone I meet, I can’t stand it. So obnoxiously clingy, he can’t even leave me be dead. He was only 27. I just-I-” Rio’s strangled rambles fill the corners of the room with his desperate imagery. He’s melting, a running faucet that can’t be turned off, sinking into the ground to merge with his intoxication. Diane lets him melt, lets herself be washed with his words and escape with his romanticism. She doesn’t move away from him, only shifting his head to rest on her shoulders.


They sat until the sun began to rise. Until Diane’s limbs were numb, racked with the painful weightlessness that came with being in one position for too long. Rio dozed off a while ago, his sagging eyebags as prominent as the long shadows encapsulating his sleep-deprived face. He was haggard, burnt out from the weight of his trauma and the hangover that persisted still. Even so, he seemed…content. As if she had done him a huge favor by simply listening. And perhaps, Diane hoped, she had. There was so much to unpack, relinquish the events that led him to her apartment after so many years. But they would take it leisurely, peel off their warped emotions like wrapping paper: careful and deliberate. They would have time now, Diane told herself. Time to rewrap themselves in new patterns, places, experiences and colors. To be better friends, to help him move on. And she would start with this.


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