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Serial: Down the River – Chapter Five

I’m finally revisiting the characters from The River City Chronicles nine years after their original timeline. I’ll be running the series weekly here on my blog, and then will release it in book form at the end of the run. Hope you enjoy catching up with all your faves and all their new secrets!

Today, we check in on a writer, who loved and lost…

< Read Chapter Four | Read Chapter Six >

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Down the River Header

Chapter Five

Ben pecked at the keyboard, willing the words to come. Eventually they did, but they refused to do so in any coherent sort of order:

Bleak. Cries. Winter. Plague. Throes. Denial. Pineapple.

Pineapple? That was out of left field.

He sat back in his chair, interlacing his fingers behind his shoulder-length hair. One of these days he’d have to get a haircut. Probably. If he could get himself out of the house long enough between work shifts.

Pineapple, pineapple… ah. That day in late spring, in the before time. When Ella had insisted on finding a ripe pineapple to cut up, to take with them on a picnic in McKinley Park. It had been ripe and delicious, and had reminded them of Hawaii…

He closed his eyes, the familiar pain squeezing his chest. Two long years she’d been gone, and it had all been his fault. If only I’d been more careful… and why does it still seem like it was just yesterday?

He glanced at the clock. 4:30 already? He had the night shift at Zocalo—he’d swapped managerial shifts with Daria, because she had some kind of family thing.

With a heavy sigh, he closed his laptop and got out of the chair to stretch. Isn’t this grief thing supposed to get easier?

After her memorial, once all their friends and family had left, endless days had stretched into sluggish weeks, devoid of light and color. Life became an exercise in simply remembering to put one foot in front of the other. Three months off work—his boss had been more than fair about it.

And then the pretending.

Pretending to be human. Pretending to give a crap about work. Pretending he still remembered what having a life was.

Pretending she wasn’t gone.

At least he was showering every day now. That had taken him the better part of the year. Ella would be proud.

He hopped in for a cursory rinse, trying not to look at the yellow shampoo bottle in the corner. The one he still didn’t have the heart to throw away. Every now and then, he would use a little bit of the lemon-scented shampoo that she used to favor—something she’d picked up on their trip to Italy.

The Amalfi Coast had been stunning that spring.

He knew he was being pathetic. It was time to move on. Past time. Ella wouldn’t want to see him like this. “Get off your ass,” she’d say. “There’s someone else out there for you, you silly fool.”

He grinned for just a moment, remembering the sweetness of her kiss and hearing her voice, before his face settled back into its normal, neutral, impassive glare.

He knew she was right. But knowing and doing were two different things. So for now, he contented himself with simply getting out of bed and putting that one foot in front of the other each day. Hoping for one good thing.

He got out and toweled himself off, avoiding looking at himself in the mirror. At his scars.

Clomp, clomp, clomp.

Ben rolled his eyes. The elephant was back.

He’d never met his upstairs neighbor, but whoever they were, they must weigh three hundred pounds. When they stomped around their apartment, he swore dust dropped from his ceiling, like in those old Westerns. It didn’t happen all that often, but it was enough to break through his self-imposed shell of numbness.


This time the whole room shook, and the shampoo bottle slipped off its perch to spill some of its precious contents across the shower floor.

“God dammit.” He scooped it up and pushed as much of the golden liquid as he could back inside. He set it on the bathroom counter, where he hoped it would be safe. “Enough is enough.”

Ben marched out of his front door, towel tied around his waist, and up the narrow stairs to the third floor of the old partitioned Victorian house in Mansion Flats that he called home. He pounded on the door, determined to finally put an end to the elephant’s sonic torture.

The door opened… and there was no one there.

“Hello… down here.”

His gaze dropped to the woman in the wheelchair who held the door open. “Um… hello.” His face flushed red.

“Can I help you?” Her brow was knitted, her blond hair pushed back and tied behind her head.

His anger drained out of him. I can’t yell at a woman in a wheelchair. “Um… yeah.” He scratched his head, wondering how to proceed, and suddenly realized he was wearing only a towel. “I’m sorry. I… I live downstairs, and…”

“Oh, I’m the one who should be sorry. My kids are here for the weekend, and sometimes they get a little crazy.”

As if in response, another loud crash thundered through the house.

She looked back over her shoulder. “If I have to come in there one more time…” Her voice trailed off, and so did the noise. She turned back to him. “I’m so sorry. I’m Loralei.”

She held out her hand, and he got a good look at her for the first time. She was close to his own age, pretty in a harried way. Blond, brown-eyed, with a warm smile.

He shook her hand. “Ben. I live downstairs.”

Her warm laugh charmed him. “You mentioned that.”

“Yeah, guess I did.” He cast about for something else to say. “You have kids?”

“Yes, two little demons. Love them to death, of course, but they’ll be the end of me. My ex leaves them with me on the weekends, while he’s out of town.”

“Of course.” Work was calling. He needed to finish getting ready if he wasn’t going to be late. “Sorry to bother you.” He started to turn away. “Say, how do you…” He was going to ask how she navigated the stairs in her wheelchair, but that didn’t seem polite. “Sorry. Have to get to work. But it was nice to meet you.”

She bit her lip and grinned. “Nice to meet you too, Ben.”

She closed the door, leaving him standing there alone, gaping at the door.

Something good had happened. He’d met someone new.

Yes, Ella would be proud.

< Read Chapter Four | Read Chapter Six >

Like what you read? if you haven’t tried it yet, check out book one, The River City Chronicles, here.

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