BHM After Quarantine

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Ghostboo

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Oct 23, 2019
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29
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After Quarantine
by Ghostboo
As the world returns back to normal, everyone is excited to spend time together in person again. Including River and Sam, who have been best friends for most of their life. This dramatic romance features a BHM, enjoy!

Chapter One - River

River sat tapping her fingers at her window, anxiously staring out at the world with wide green eyes. The vaccine for COVID-19 had been approved the week before, and after first the first wave applicable to medical personnel and the high-risk, the rest of the public had finally been permitted to get theirs. It was safe to go out, and more importantly, be around others again. It had been a long three months.

Before River could see it, the loud sound of an engine approached. Her face cut into a broad, crooked smile as she dashed downstairs. The worst part of the quarantine hadn’t been boredom - she could find enjoyment in games and books plenty on her own - or even the isolation, for the most part. But being apart from Sam had been torture. For almost 10 years, River and Sam had been best friends, nearly inseparable. But as the virus swept the world, they had found themselves isolated in two different areas. River, in her apartment, and Sam, in his family’s farmhouse. The main part of the house had his parents and his younger sister, Iola, and Sam had been in the mother-in-law apartment over the garage with his girlfriend, Helen.

River determinedly tried to put that thought to the side as she hovered near the front door. The sad truth was, after nearly a decade of friendship, she had fallen head over heels for Sam. It had been a horrifying discovery made not long after Sam and Helen began dating.

“But, why don’t you like her?” Her cousins had asked. Joe and Frank were 23 and 24, so a couple years older than River, and they’d been close with Sam before she moved to their small town. “What’s wrong with Helen?”

“I don’t know,” River’d huffed back. Sam’s previous relationships had involved girls with clear issues - Cordelia, the shallow cheerleader who broke up with him after he had a particularly indulgent summer; Megan, the redhead who cried incessantly if all his attention wasn’t on her at all times; but there were no such issues with Helen. Helen, a beautiful and plump blonde, was cheerful and well-liked by all who knew her. All except River.

“Yes, you do,” Frank pressed gently.

“Just tell us,” Joe pressed, less than gently.

“I can’t,” River replied, the panicky trapped feeling coursing its way up her spine.

“Why not?” asked Frank.

“Because I can't be in love with my best friend,” she blurted, before covering her mouth with her hands in mortification. She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. She hadn’t even said it to herself. The panicky feeling burst in her chest as Joe and Frank looked at each other with some smugness and relief in their faces, respectively.

“You should tell him,” Joe said, self-importantly.

“Absolutely not,” River rushed out. “And if you tell him, we’ll never speak again. As long as Sam is in a relationship this dies with us. Understood?” The brothers exchanged another look.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. As long as he’s happy. That’s all that matters.”

And River stuck to that. It had been almost a year since that conversation. Sam continued to seem happy and prosperous with Helen, and River swallowed her feelings on the matter to keep him in her life. It was worth it, she told herself constantly. They were friends first. Still, when the quarantine had been lifted, River was more than a little relieved to hear Helen had left town to go see family, and that Sam was coming over to see her on his own. River had felt more panic than she cared to admit over choosing an outfit - settling on a red summer dress, soft and patterned with flowers. It flattered her thin, curvy figure - though perhaps now it was more on the former side due to barely having motivation to cook during the isolation - as well as brought out the highlights in her naturally honey blonde hair.

A knock on the door cut through River’s anxious toe-tapping, and she hurried to open it.
 

Ghostboo

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Chapter Two - Sam

It was a good day. Admittedly, Sam tended to see the bright side of almost everything - sometimes to a fault - but after three months in quarantine it was hard not to feel happy above all else. After a large breakfast and saying goodbye to Helen, who was leaving their small town for a couple days to see her family a few hours away, Sam made plans to go and see his closest friend, River. The first few years after she’d moved to town, Sam had had a terrible crush on her, but he’d managed to put that to the wayside for the sake of their friendship. He knew she was too good for him from the get-go, or at least, tended to gravitate more towards the “bad boys”. Which Sam was definitely not. Their friendship was probably odd to some people, but Sam pictured them as the angel and devil hanging out on each shoulder. It was a good balance. And besides, Sam had Helen, who was everything that anyone could want in a partner. Kind, caring, and pretty. At age 24, it was his longest relationship to date, and Sam was content.

After finishing up choring on the farm, Sam indulged in a few sandwiches stacked high with all his favorites for lunch, and then it was time to get ready to go out into the wide world and see River. Sam tried to ignore the nervous energy in his chest as he made his way to his closet, carefully looking through the clothes he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to wear for a few months. For choring and lazing around at home, Sam had stuck to gym shorts and sweatpants for bottoms, and oversized bro tanks or hoodies on top. Now he pulled out a couple pairs of jeans and t-shirts that had been collecting dust, and prepared to try them on.

Now, to put it mildly, Sam was not a small guy. He never had been. It worked out in his favor in a lot of ways, including being an excellent linebacker in football for many years of school, and for working on a farm, there’s no benefit in being waif-like. Still, there were downsides. Despite the obvious strength in Sam’s arms, chest, and shoulders, seemingly every delicious indulgence would make its way to Sam’s middle. *Especially* at times when farm work was his only exercise, it would show. Sam was still an objectively attractive guy, with wavy chestnut hair, light freckles, and a broad grin. With his confidence in who he was, it was no surprise Sam still had girlfriends throughout the years. But Sam’s second longest relationship to date had been Cordelia, who barely tolerated his size at first and eventually left him over it. He’d had a lazy and indulgent summer, leading to an additional 20 or so pounds added on top of his already stout frame, and when the football season didn’t drop the weight off (Sam’s eating increased with his fitness level, if we’re being honest) she’d had it.

“It’s embarrassing,” Cordelia said to Sam, prodding him not-so-gently in his soft middle. “I don’t want to be the cheerleader dating the fattest guy on the field. That doesn’t work for me.”

Sam would always blush at this memory, and then roll his eyes at the next one, which was River with her infamous temper shaking up a soda can and spraying it in Cordelia’s face when they’d ran into her at Pop’s, the local burger joint, a couple days later. At the time, Sam had been frustrated with her calling attention to the situation, but in hindsight it was amusing and somewhat reassuring. He’d always have someone in his corner.

Meanwhile, we now see our hero encountering the exact issue the nerves in Sam’s chest tried to warn him about: his clothes no longer fit. Going into the quarantine had found most of his pants getting pretty snug, due to the inevitable relationship weight that comes with settling down for snacks and a movie instead of going for a run, and then three months of nothing to do after work but cook and eat was showing itself plentifully on his frame.

“Ahhhhh,” Sam exhaled in quiet frustration as he fruitlessly tugged the button towards the hole of his jeans. No dice. Just like the last couple pairs, and the slacks, and the corduroy...this was not good. Sam even tried a trick he’d see Helen do to get into purposefully snug pants, and lay down on his bed before trying again, sucking it in fervently. It was closer, but Sam was getting tired, and he couldn’t muster the final surge to get the button into the hole. It would have been extremely uncomfortable, anyway.

Looking around, Sam snagged one of the rubber bands from behind his headboard and looped it through the hole in his jeans, then around the button. It wasn’t ideal, but it would keep them up before he could go shopping.

In terms of a top, the t-shirts Sam tried on clung to absolutely every ounce that had been added to his middle. He blushed and avoided the mirror as he went through his closet for something he knew was larger. It’d have to be long enough to cover his fake button - and of course, his belly that half-rested over it. Finally, he pulled out a purposefully oversized sweater he’d had for years (that was now closer to an “appropriately” sized sweater), exhaled a slight “good enough” at his reflection, then headed out the door.

Squeezing into his old Honda, Sam made his way into town and towards River’s apartment. His family’s farmhouse was on the outskirts of town, making it a decent 15-to-20 minute drive. His car engine’s noise usually announced his presence before anyone could see him, but Sam was too attached to his old car to trade it in. Making his way to River’s building, Sam eased out from behind the wheel and smiled up at the door before approaching and knocking.

River couldn’t even pretend to play casual as she swung the door open immediately.

“Hi! Hi,” she cried, stepping back briefly to allow Sam to step in before she darted in for a hug.

“Hey kid,” he said with a laugh as a good amount of his air supply was cut off by her arms. River had never been one for judgement, but Sam also couldn’t help but blush a little as he wondered if she could tell right away that he was much bigger than the last time she saw him. “It’s nice to see you.”

“It’s nice to see you, big guy,” River echoed back his nickname in response to hers, not because she had noticed the weight gain. It may have been in the back of her mind, but she was truly just glad to see him. “You look great.” Sam scoffed a little, but saw she was in earnest, and scratched the back of his head briefly.

“Oh, ah, thanks. You’re the one who looks great, I definitely woke up to some of the effects of isolation today,” Sam said with a small deprecating pat on his belly. “Speaking of which, I can’t stay long, I’ve gotta keep on into town to get some new clothes.”

“Yeah? Can I come?” River asked immediately. Sam looked at her skeptically, a little heat simultaneously rising in his face.

“You want to come?”

“Yeah, I’ve missed you, I don’t mind. You know I’ll keep you on track.” River was notorious in her hatred for shopping. In and out, that’s all she ever wanted. Browsing made her lose her mind. Sam laughed.

“I mean...I guess so. But I really need some stuff that fits, so we might have to spend a little time looking.” River nodded.

“That’s fine. I can handle it. I’ll be helpful! Or quiet. Whichever one you want.”

“Maybe both? Just holding up ‘yes’ or ‘no’ signs?” Sam teased, and River laughed.

“Perfect. Okay, let’s go!” and River flew by Sam to get to his car. Sam shook his head a little as he followed, hoping he wasn’t setting himself up for too much embarrassment.
 

Ghostboo

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Joined
Oct 23, 2019
Messages
29
Location
Alaska
I am at a total loss for how to make paragraphs happen, so if any fellow writers have any formatting tips, hmu!
 

Ghostboo

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Joined
Oct 23, 2019
Messages
29
Location
Alaska
Chapter Three

The first stop was to the dreaded mall, to pick up some of the nicer items that Sam could only get from the big & tall store. River only rolled her eyes a little before indulging in a loud, even occasionally on key rendition of "Roxanne" picked up by the Honda's old stereo. Sam laughed, enjoying River's company and also a little relieved that she was distracting herself from possibly noticing how much tighter of a fit it was for Sam in his car post-quarantine.

I'll work it off now that the world is reopen, he thought to himself, even unconvincing in his mind. It won't be a problem.

In college Sam had his football scholarship as well as the farm work to keep himself on the higher end of active, but since then, it had just been casual leagues supplementing with a few hundred extra calories burned a week. Not enough to keep up with Sam's appetite, especially as he planned to go out for a local community theatre production that was back on schedule with the vaccine. He and River had done a few together, and he greatly enjoyed it, though it often coincided with his weight spiking. It was already easy to go for cheap, high-calorie food after a long day, and when his extracurriculars weren't exercise-related, it showed.

Still, Sam was determined to hold onto most of his smaller clothes, just in case. He might need them one day.

Once at the Bayview Mall, Sam was relieved to see the parking lot wasn't overflowing with excited shoppers. It wasn't empty, but people seemed to be taking their time easing back into the swing of things. River bobbed her head to the music in her head - which was probably a continuation of "Sweet Caroline", that had been cut off halfway through when Sam parked and turned off the car - as they walked to the double doors opening next to a combo KFC/Taco Bell at the end of the mall.

Sam tried to ignore the delicious, fatty scents drifting through the mall as they walked straight to the big & tall store.

"Alright, I just need a pair slacks and maybe a couple button ups, to tide me over," Sam said.

"Tide you over 'till what?" River asked, looking up at Sam in that way that made it impossible to tell if she was teasing or truly innocent to his meaning.

"'Till I outgrow them on my quest to be Bayview's first sumo wrestler," Sam shot back, giving his friend a crooked grin that didn't fully hide his embarrassment.

"Oh! I can't wait," River crowed back, nudging his soft side. Sam laughed.

In the store, Sam headed for the display of slacks while River fingered the button up on a barrel-chested mannequin. The pants he had on held together by a rubber band were 36's, so he grabbed a few different colors of 38's and, as an afterthought, a 40.

"This would look good with those!" River appeared from behind suddenly, causing Sam to almost jump. She was holding two Henley's, one mustard colored and one a forest green. She held the mustard next to a pair of deep green slacks, and the forest Henley up to the black slacks.

"You might be right," Sam said, then checked the tags. "But...you grabbed XLs, which might have fit me in high school. Plus, I think I can get them cheaper at Duluth." To his surprise, River flushed a deep red at this before pulling away the shirts. He'd never seen her get embarrassed at reference to his weight before. (In reality, River felt herself overstep her bounds as the friend, not girlfriend, on the shopping expedition. She'd grabbed the shirts because she thought they were an extremely attractive style, and she felt found out.)

"Sorry, right, you said button ups," she said, and started to turn.

"Wait! If they have a 3X, could you grab one? It'd be nice to have something to try on with the pants," Sam said, a little more gently than before. River nodded, though her face still looked a little pinker than usual. She hurried away. Sam picked up a couple nice button ups in a style he liked, and was joined by River holding the (now much larger) mustard Henley as he approached the dressing room.

"Alright, I'll just double check these, then we can go," Sam told her. River nodded, seemingly like she was about to ask something, but then stopped herself.

Friends don't tell friends to make sure to show them how they look in their new clothes, River told herself. What? Yes, they absolutely do, another part of her retorted, but River still stayed quiet. She wanted to stay well behind the friend line, despite the ever-present ache of being near Sam for the first time in months drawing her closer.
 

Ghostboo

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Oct 23, 2019
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Location
Alaska
Once in the dressing room, Sam pulled off his sweater and (with a sigh of relief) undid his jerry-rigged pants. He avoided the mirror in the dressing room as best he could as he started to tug on the first pair of 38's, the blue ones. With a sinking feeling, he felt them hug onto his thighs as he pulled them up. He gave a slight hop to get them to the top and over his impressive backside - often thought by Sam privately as his best feature, and reassured as such by several girlfriends in the past - then took a shaky breath as he went to button them. Thank god, the button found the hole. But...they were uncomfortably tight. Sam sighed, resisting the urge to groan - remember, you’re in public now, that’s a thing again - and looked in the mirror. He cringed at the sight, his already impressively present belly and love handles being squeezed out the top of the too-tight pants like a burst cinnamon roll tube. It was not flattering, to say the very least.

"Great," he exhaled sarcastically, too quietly to be overheard, then went to squeeze back out of them. Just to make sure they weren't an outlier, he tried on the black pair too - and nope, no cigar.

I just blew past my biggest size, Sam thought, not exactly bitterly - it wasn't in his nature - but definitely a bit disheartened. Wheeee.

Sam looked at the size 40 pants begrudgingly. That number felt like such a milestone - much like his last one, reaching 300lbs. But he was often told he didn't actually look that size, considering his height and decent musculature. With another sigh, Sam tugged on the green pair of larger pants and got them up and buttoned with no issues. Before looking in the mirror, he tugged on the Henley that River had provided. Steeling himself, he checked his reflection.

Oh. Oh, he looked...pretty good. And felt good. The Henley showed off his muscular arms and chest while draping over his belly in a, well, if not disguising way, then at least semi-flattering. Much more so than the Henley’s at Duluth. The pants weren't so loose as to look grungy, and the colors looked good together. Sam inhaled and exhaled a satisfied sigh, this time.

Okay then, he thought. Good enough for government work.

Even taking an extra second to admire the person in the mirror - someone he hadn't seen in months, having stuck to comfy clothes only and avoided reflections telling him of his weight gain while in quarantine - then stripped the shirt off. After checking the button ups were fine - they were - he changed back into the Henley and left the dressing room. "Can I wear these out? And one more pair of these 40's in a black," he asked the dressing room attendant. "Certainly," was the reply he got, as tags were removed and taken to the checkout counter.

River was nearby, studying another mannequin with clearly fake determination. She spotted Sam right away and gasped.

"What?" Sam asked, seeing her widened eyes and immediately thinking the worst. Maybe there was an obvious issue he hadn't seen? Some part of his brain that had atrophied in isolation? But River's hand came away from her mouth to reveal a grin.

"Oh, that looks great! Wow! You look....wow," she said, forcing herself to reign it in a little and looking at a particularly interesting patch of floor to hide her blush.

"Yeah, you were right," Sam grinned back, finding himself blushing a little in response to her enthusiasm. He ignored the tightening in his chest at the sight of a slightly more abashed River - a side she showed almost no one. Most people knew her in town as ferocious, with a polarizing quality to her intensity. But he adored all of it. There was nothing wrong with being who you are, especially when you're as fun as River. "Thanks kid."

After paying, before they could head back the way they came, River asked: "Pretzel?"

"Oof," Sam groaned before he could stop himself. Part of the heavenly aroma floating through the mall was a small pretzel stand that was one of their guilty pleasures. You could only get it at the mall, and with a bevy of toppings, it'd be incredibly easy to top 3,000 calories on the snack alone. But it was so good. "You know I can't say no to that."

"I do know," River said gleefully, leading the way down another hall towards the pretzel shack. Sam laughed, and followed. "They're on me, get whatever you want."

"What if I can't decide between a sweet and a savory?"

"Sounds like you're getting two pretzels," River replied seriously.

"You're going to be rolling me back in there for yet another size up," Sam teased back.

"Good, I want to see you hang that sumo blue ribbon - or uh, gold belt - platinum trophy? - WHATEVER! In your room ASAP," River responded haughtily. Sam laughed harder.

"If you insist, m'lady," he said.

River got her usual - a cinnamon sugar pretzel with cream cheese dip. Sam got a fully loaded sweet pretzel, featuring m&ms, peanut butter, coconut, caramel, marshmallows, fudge, oreo crumble, sprinkles, and more, as well as a savory pretzel with bacon and nacho cheese to dip in.

They sat on a bench across from the shop to enjoy their prizes.

"Can't get this in quarantine," River said as she enthusiastically dipped her pretzel.

"Sure can't," Sam said cheerfully around a mouthful of pretzel. A moment later, a group of teenagers began to strut past the pretzel hut. Already casting around with a critical eye, the clan observed Sam double fisting pretzels, and began to snicker. One of them was quick to point with a finger at his bag from the big & tall store, and several of the snickers turned into full-blown laughs as they stumbled by.

Sam couldn't help it, he let his hands holding the pretzels drop a bit. He sighed. It's nothing he hadn't seen before - as a fat person existing in a public space, it's a pretty consistent guarantee - but the "public" part hadn't been a factor for awhile. He was a bit out of practice in letting it roll off his back. On top of all the clothing struggles of the day, he couldn't help but feel embarrassment over his snack choice take hold.

River glowered after the group, but even she didn't feel the need to engage with a group of asshole teenagers. "That's right, there's people out here," she grumbled. "Why were we so eager to get back to it again?"

Sam gave a crooked smile and nudged River before saying with exaggerated cheesiness, "Why, for this right here, of course!"

"Oh yeah," she said, still a bit grumbly, but returning Sam's smile. "I'm really glad we got to do this. I'm...thank you."

"Me too. I'm glad you came, kid."

He tried not to think about it, but the truth was, even before quarantine, Sam and River hadn't hung out like this in awhile. Back when Sam was single, they'd have been over at each other's places most days, making trips to Pop's, road trips, the whole nine yards. But when Sam started dating Helen, that had changed. He would spend most days with his new romantic partner, and even on his free days, things weren't quite the same. He'd learned from past relationships that it was frowned upon to have your friend of the opposite sex watching TV in bed with you while you were otherwise engaged. Things he'd never really thought about, because it was River. His best friend. But he wanted to be respectful to Helen, and soon, Sam could feel River pull away as well. She normally pushed back, insisting that platonic friends being comfortable with each other was not a threat and the girls should get over it, but she went quiet on the subject within a few months. She still reached out, and they still considered each other their closest friend, but there weren't anymore late night horror movie marathons in Sam's apartment that went until they both passed out, fully clothed, on top of the covers. Most interactions were in a group now.

But Sam did miss her. And there was something in River's eyes when he looked back at her, something deep and emotional and unreadable. She looked away quickly.

"So...Duluth next?" she said finally, licking some cinnamon-sugar off her fingers. Sam took the last bite of his bacon pretzel and nodded.

"They're generous to big boys," he said with a grin. Hell, he could sometimes still fit in an Extra Large of their fleeces! It was the perfect end to the day.
 
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Ghostboo

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Alaska
Chapter Four - River

“Okay, good enough for government work,” River whispered to herself uncertainly as she turned left and right, studying herself in her full length mirror. The party tonight would be the first time she’d see quite a few members of their friend group, so she wanted to look good, but not like she had tried too hard. Because she hadn’t. Who had the energy to do extensive makeup after three months of apocalypse anxiety? Better people than me, she admitted. The long navy yoga skirt she had on over a deep v-neck maroon bodysuit was flattering, and comfortable, and hopefully stylish. She was never totally sure.

It had been a couple weeks since shopping with Sam. The few days that Helen was out of town felt like a honeymoon, if she was being honest. Seeing movies, getting good food, hanging out on the farm with Sam’s whole family. She had him to herself again. Which was, of course, a horrible thought that made her feel incredibly, incapacitatingly guilty. Since realizing her feelings for Sam, River was more off-kilter than she had been in years. She’d had a rough upbringing before being adopted by Frank and Joe’s aunt, and had learned very quickly how to rely on herself only. She knew who she was. But she hadn’t had to rely on only herself since meeting Sam, and all their friends, really, but especially her closest friend. And this wrench in what had been a satisfactory existence frustrated her to no end. She didn’t like hiding her feelings. And now it felt like most of her interactions - even with herself! - were doing just that. But they just wouldn’t go away.

There were some benefits, however. River had finally been able to break things off with Jason for good. They’d had a tumultuous off-and-on relationship for years, and once her feelings for Sam became clear, she never looked back to whatever that train wreck had been. Jason, who had gotten used to her eventually coming back, would still reach out alternating between being sweet and being an asshole to try and entice her but River just found herself confused by her past actions. Why would anyone date somebody who wasn’t, well, nice? What had she been thinking?

After the initial, blissful weekend, Helen came back and things returned to the previous normal. River, Frank, and Joe had seen Sam and Helen a couple times at their typical Pop’s group hang. River spent the entire time feeling like somebody had painted a smile on her that was slowly dripping away. She assumed everyone could tell, though no one said anything. Even Frank and Joe seemed to be foregoing their usual sideways glances.

But tonight, Frank and Joe were hosting a decent sized “welcome back, world” party at their parent’s house. River’s aunt and uncle loved having big gatherings at the house, and with a bedroom in the back area of the large house, they could go to bed whenever they liked when things got late and rowdier. River’s mom usually lived there too, but she was away for the weekend.

River’s apartment was walking distance from her cousins, luckily, and her plan was to crash in her old childhood bedroom if things went too late. There was plenty of room, and Frank and Joe’s parties often had many friends on various couches or even corners. Not that they were a wild bunch, the parties never went beyond some tasty mixed drinks and maybe a joint or two while they played games and watched movies and listened to music. But it was better to be safe than sorry, so everyone was welcome to sleep it off rather than drive if need be.

Writing off the rising anxiety in her throat as a reaction to the impending socialization - never her forte anyway, but especially after a period of doing none of it - River grabbed a jacket and headed out towards her family’s home.
 
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Ghostboo

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Oct 23, 2019
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Location
Alaska
Chapter Five - Sam

“Awesome,” Sam told his reflection with a grin. He felt good in his new slacks and button-up, and was ready to see all his friends in one place for the first time in months. Helen was still trying to pick an outfit, and had been quiet about the evening, so he didn’t push it. Admittedly, his group of friends were a lot - a group of loud, stubborn, opinionated people. But they were still lots of fun, and they adored Helen. Or, most of them did. Sam also tried not to look directly at the coolness with which Helen and River interacted with each other.

“I don’t know...I just hoped to see more by now,” Helen admitted as she looked in the mirror, holding up an outfit and blowing air out of puffed-out cheeks. Helen was a pleasingly plump girl, and no one could say she wasn’t still very good-looking. But quarantine had added a few pounds to her frame too, despite her best efforts, and she’d ramped up efforts to lose it since they’d been allowed outside. “I’ve lost less than 5 pounds.”

“But that’s a healthy amount, right?” Sam scrambled for what to say. “You don’t want to overdo it.”

“I guess,” Helen said. She had started to tug on jeans, but quickly abandoned it in favor of a flowy dress. “What about you?”

Her tone was casual, but Sam’s first instinct when a girlfriend asked about his weight was always a brief flash of panic. It was a remnant of his relationship...and subsequent horrible breakup...with Cordelia. Even if Helen probably meant it just as casually as she asked it.

“Oh, um...I don’t know,” he replied, mostly honestly. “You know I don’t believe most scales, and my new clothes still feel good? Not too loose, so...probably no change.” Helen had more or less assumed that Sam would also be working hard to lose weight post-quarantine, and he hadn’t bothered to correct her - because he was, right? Except that was mostly in thought, not actions. He was doing absolutely nothing differently, aside from indulging with River in some favorite restaurants he’d had to leave behind during the last few months.

If anything, I’ve probably even GAINED weight the last couple weeks, he thought guiltily. He wondered if he should assure Helen of his commitment to slimming down, but honestly, that’d be a lie. And she was nodding already, so he kept quiet.

“Well, you look nice,” she said finally, giving him a small smile. Sam grinned in response.

“Thanks gorgeous,” he replied, sitting next to his girlfriend on the bed and wrapping his arm around her. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and she laughed a little as she tried to pull her shoes on. “Almost ready?”

“Yep,” replied Helen, pulling a hand through her strawberry hair in the mirror. “Let’s go.”
 
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Ghostboo

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Oct 23, 2019
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Location
Alaska
Chapter Six - River

River was thinking very hard about getting up and going to the bathroom - except her body wasn’t obeying. Her mouth twisted in a slight frown as she stared determinedly in the direction she wanted to go, but her loose limbs didn’t move. River sighed. Around her, the boys were playing a round of Super Smash Brothers and whooping with either delight or rage, depending on the move. Iola and Helen were chatting in the kitchen, though River couldn’t hear what they were talking about.

Suddenly, the crooning sounds of The High Kings coming out of the stereo were interrupted by a new song, something electronic and loud.

“Hey!” River exclaimed, her body finally leaping to its feet. Callie, her cousin Frank’s girlfriend, had unplugged River’s phone and plugged in her own.

“I just wanted Frank to listen to-”

“No!” River cried. “This is now an Irish bar, unless you can best me in hand to hand combat, or win a riddle-off. Those are the rules.”

Callie frowned at River, waiting to see if she’d back down, but finally sighed and unplugged her phone. River dashed to the stereo, made sure her phone was alive and well, and flipped to The Rocky Road to Dublin to use as a soundtrack for her trek to the bathroom.

Yes, River was very drunk. In quarantine she may have had a glass of wine or two to dull the terror every once in awhile, but that was very different than several glasses of Joe’s mystery punch. Especially considering River was a decent amount leaner than she had been at the last party anyone had been able to have. She was definitely feeling it. Though, in her defense, everyone knew River after more than 2 drinks became the ruler of the music. Which was always, inevitably, 1970’s genderqueer disco or sea shanties.

“How’s a fat guy learn these moves anyway?!” Jason as Fox was jeering at Sam as Pit when River exited the bathroom.

“Hey, just ‘cause I’m chubby doesn’t mean I don’t understand agility,” Sam defended, dive-bombing his enemies onscreen. “I’m like Jack Black.”

“Think you left chubby far behind in quarantine my dude,” Jason retorted.

“Stop being such a sore fucking loser, Jason,” River spoke up, holding onto the wall for assistance.

“Maybe I will if you come here, babe,” Jason said, taking a break from the screen to suggestively pat his skinny lap. Jason had been a runner most of his time at school, and his extremely lean body still reflected it. River didn’t even respond, she just stared in disgust. God, she had found this act ATTRACTIVE once. What a dark time.

On her way back to her bean bag in the corner, River found part of a glass of punch. “Ooo,” she said, taking a sip before settling back into her nook.

Before too long - she thought - a lot of the party had cleared out. Jason finally slunk away after making puppy dog eyes at her, Bill and Tony had driven home, and now it was a small handful of people, mostly couples. River felt a tightness in her chest at the thought of them all grouping off. She didn’t want to be here anymore. But standing proved even more difficult than last time, and she stumbled lightly into the opposing wall. She managed to get her footing right as Sam got to her side and touched her elbow.

“You okay, kid?” he asked gently. River smiled tightly at him.

“Hey, big guy. I want to go to bed...but….stairs,” she said solemnly, looking up into the darkness where her old bedroom lay.

“That’s fair,” Sam laughed. “I got you. Let’s go on a field trip.”

“Yaaay, field trip,” River cheered quietly, happy to join in on an old inside joke of theirs, that everything was a field trip. Though admittedly, more happy to feel Sam’s arm around her as he helped her walk over to the stairs. Joe noticed with relief that his cousin was getting some care, and went back to chatting with Iola. Helen, who was half-watching the latest terrible movie thrown on the TV, silently watched her boyfriend and River ascend the stairs.

Once in the room, Sam gently helped River lie down in the twin-sized bed, then stood. “Need anything else?” He asked gently, glancing back towards the door where the party continued downstairs.

To both of their utter surprise, River burst into tears.

“Please don’t go,” she said. “Please. I miss you. It’s been so long, and...and even before...you’re always with Helen and I just...miss you. How it used to be. Please don’t go yet.”

River hadn’t meant to say any of that, of course, but there it was. Sam stared at her in shock.

“Yeah, okay,” he finally said quietly. “For a little bit.”
 
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Ghostboo

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Chapter Seven - Sam

The party had been just as much fun as Sam was hoping for. He loved seeing all his old friends, not even allowing the constant jabs of River’s ex Jason to bother him too much. Helen was still being pretty quiet, but if she had an issue or wanted to go, he trusted she’d tell him. He demolished at Super Smash, laughed hard to the antics of Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, and was the perfect level of buzzed off Joe’s punch. It took quite a bit for a guy his size to move past that stage, and he tried not to, anyway. He was too big to be taken care of.

But River wasn’t, and the alcohol had clearly hit her the hardest. He was happy to escort her upstairs, to her old room where they’d spend lots of time playing board games in high school. It was small, which was why they’d usually spent time at his family’s farmhouse, but it still had fond memories.

Preparing to go back to the party once she was situated, Sam was absolutely bowled over when River spoke up. He’d seen her cry before, of course - usually over Jason - but it had been a long time. And for the first time, she was acknowledging how different things had been since he started dating Helen. Sam felt his heart crack a little at that. He couldn’t leave yet.

Sitting carefully at the very end of her bed, Sam smiled and guided River to rest her head against his thick thigh. Absentmindedly, he put his hand on her hair.

“‘Till you’re asleep,” he said, partially to her, partially to himself.

“Thank you,” murmured River, already halfway there. “I’m...thank you. I didn’t mean to drink...all….that.”

Sam chuckled a little, his hand lightly stroking River’s hair. This was not out of the ordinary for how their relationship had always been, but it was more than likely one of those things that Megan or Cordelia would have shrieked was NOT okay for a guy with a girlfriend. Sam had had enough punch that those barriers were falling.

“It was good, though,” he said. “You have fun?”

“Yeah,” breathed River. Sam chuckled again, but quieter this time. His hand slowed. Sam was the perfect level of buzzed for a party, but in the darkness of a bedroom, his eyes were feeling heavy. Being here with River, his best friend, felt so right that he ignored the quietly urging voice in the back of his head to go back to the party until it was gone.

Both slept. Sam with his back up against the wall, with his belly rising and falling with deep breaths and at its apex lightly brushing the top of River’s head, laid on his lap. River had never been too deep of a sleeper, but the alcohol along with Sam’s presence had sent her to the bottom of the sea.

Neither noticed when the door opened, Helen checking after a decent stretch of time where her boyfriend went. Nor did they wake when she turned tail and stormed down the stairs, past the last couple of partygoers, and out the front door with a slam.
 
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Ghostboo

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Chapter Eight - Sam

When Sam awoke a few hours later, the first streams of dawn were just starting to peek through the curtains. It took him a few moments to get his bearings - not because he had drank too much, but because he wasn’t where he expected to be. His back hurt from sleeping upright, and he slowly turned his head from left to right in order to work out the kinks. Then he looked down.

River was still asleep, her blonde head half on his wide lap. Sam felt a couple strong emotions, one positive feeling that he was careful not to look too closely at, and the other was concern.

Being very careful to extract himself so that River wasn’t too disturbed, Sam replaced a pillow under her head Indiana Jones style and crept out of the door. The house was eerily quiet, and Sam cast an eye around the living room, looking for Helen. He half hoped the reason she hadn’t come and woken him up was that she, too, had passed out earlier than she meant to. But the living room was empty.

Swallowing a little, Sam made his way out of the house and to his Honda. Helen must have gone home - alone. Whoops. Squeezing behind the wheel, he made his way home to the farmhouse. The roads were fairly empty, it was too early for most to be out on a weekend, so he made good time.

Helen wasn’t at the farmhouse either. This wasn’t too surprising, she had been working slowly at moving back into her own apartment with her mediocre roommate. When the lockdown started, it made sense for her to stay with Chet, who had plenty of space while her roommate was planning to have her equally mediocre boyfriend stay in their apartment. But now that that was lifted, Helen was ready for some of her own space again. They never really talked about it, but there was a sense of relief. Not that quarantine had been horrible or uncovered deep fissures in their relationship or anything, at least as far as Sam could tell. Helen wasn’t super forthcoming with her feelings, though. It had just been - fine. It was a lot of time to be spending with a significant other at the first introduction to living together. By the end, if anything, it had gotten rather dull.

Which is fine, Sam thought to himself. Relationships settle. And we’ll have some time apart now, and….yeah. It’s fine.

Sam drank two large glasses of orange juice and a few pieces of toast in the communal kitchen before making his way up to his apartment. His parents were already out doing chores, covering the work so he and Iola could have a lie-in after the party, which was very kind of them. Before he hopped in the shower, he sent Helen a text:

Hey babe! I just got home. Can I come see you?

The fact that his phone didn’t display any messages from last night worried him a little, but he tried to put it out of his mind as he took a hot shower. After, Sam grabbed a new pair of jeans and a red and blue flannel from Duluth (in a 2X) as well as a short sleeved gray shirt to wear under. The gray shirt was older and definitely fit snugly around his round middle, but Sam didn’t worry about that too much. He didn’t have any big plans to go out today other than to see his girlfriend. As the sun continued to climb in the sky, and Sam made a heartier breakfast to supplement the toast, he got a response.

I’m at the apartment.

Sam took that to mean yes, and hummed as he cooked himself a few large duck eggs and thick cut, fresh bacon.

Be there soon!

He replied after he finished his second breakfast. Cleaning up after himself quickly, Sam headed out to his car to drive to Helen’s. She wasn’t far, luckily, closer than River or Frank or Sam. He was there in less than 10 minutes. He had considered taking a detour for flowers or something, but he figured he’d rather see her ASAP and offer her an explanation and an apology for leaving her downstairs. Helen was a reasonable gal, and he didn’t anticipate it being a doomsday issue.

Knocking energetically on Helen’s door, Sam hummed a little more to himself as he waited for the door to open. When it did, he smiled at his pretty, plump girlfriend and wrapped her in a hug.

She didn’t return it.
 

Ghostboo

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Releasing her, Sam took in the sight of Helen’s high-waisted jeans hugging her curvy lower half, her attractive lacy peasant top giving life to her already very impressive cleavage, and most important, the dark expression on her face.

“Hey,” he said, gently, cautiously. “Helen...I’m sorry about last night. I didn’t mean to pass out so early.”

Helen uttered a short laugh and turned and walked further back into her apartment. The front door opened into the living room, with a couch and TV directly to the right, then slightly farther back and to the left was the kitchen. She hovered near the entrance to that now.

“I’m sorry, you think that the only apology you owe is for ‘passing out early’? It was 2 AM already, you know.”

“Ah,” Sam said, a little uncertainly. “You wanted to go earlier?”

“I didn’t really want to go at all, Sam, but I did because I’m a great fucking girlfriend. And then you straight up abandon me to fall asleep with your ‘friend’ who hasn’t said two kind words to me since we’ve gotten together?”

Ah shit, there it was. The precarious balance they had struck was crumbling, starting with River’s declaration last night.

“Helen, I’m sorry you feel that way, but River was having a hard night and...it was an accident. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“You’re sorry I ‘feel’ that way? Really? Did you happen to notice me - again, your girlfriend - having a particularly good time at any point last night? Or one instance over the last year of River trying in any way to make me feel welcome or not like some intruder to your secret club?”

Sam blinked at her. “That’s just...how River is. She’s only ‘welcoming’ to her family, and...me.”

Helen uttered that same short, hard laugh as before. Sam had never heard it before, and he didn’t like it. It wasn’t like her, his girlfriend he’d only known as being nearly as cheerful and easygoing as he was.

“And there was no part of you that thought you should press that issue, huh? For my sake? That’s the problem, Sam. I’ve put up with this….feeling second...bullshit for over a year.”

It was Sam’s turn to laugh, though it wasn’t angry, just incredulous. “Second? Helen, I see you more than anyone, I’ve done nothing but put you first-”

“And yet the second River needs some male attention, there you are. For so long you fall asleep. So I get to experience the incredible feeling of walking in on my boyfriend canoodling with someone else. God, you know, I was told to watch out for this - and I ignored them, and trusted you when you said I had nothing to worry about. I’m such an idiot.”

That wasn’t entirely fair, but Sam wasn’t sure what to say. He could guess by ‘them’ Helen was probably referring to his ex-girlfriends, or honestly any other number of townies who weren’t big fans of River who would get enjoyment out of ‘warning’ Helen.

“Helen...you know I didn’t cheat on you, right? Nothing happened. I just...accidentally fell asleep. It was innocent. And I am sorry.”

Another harsh laugh.

“If that’s what you think the big issue is, there’s nothing else to say. I think you should leave.” she said, gesturing towards the front door.

“Helen, I don’t want to leave until we’ve worked this out,” Sam said slowly. They had never had a fight like this, but he had enough experience to know walking away this angry was not likely to help.

“There is no working this out, Sam. We’re done. As long as River is in your life, I won’t be. You can go. Now.”

Sam froze in shock, staring at Helen. But she met his eyes, and was absolutely serious. The only words that rose to Sam’s lips were pleas, which he swallowed back down. After a couple excruciating minutes, Sam turned and walked out the door, leaving his ex girlfriend glaring after his retreating form.
 

Ghostboo

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Chapter Nine - River

River woke in the late morning, dragged uncomfortably from her deep sleep by the need to pee and a throbbing headache. Groaning to herself, River blinked against the light streaming through her curtains to see a full glass of water next to the bed. Clearly, she had slacked on her pre-bedtime drunk duties.

Memories were eluding her for now, so River shuffled her way up and to the bathroom, then back to sip on her water. Ugh, she hated room temperature water the morning after. She wanted juice. Rubbing her temples with her free hand, River took another begrudging sip and thought back on the events of the evening. Why hadn’t she drank her water?

Oh. Well because first off, she got entirely too drunk on what she now suspected was 11,000 different kinds of alcohol thrown together by Joe. And then because...she had fallen asleep in Sam’s lap. A couple different emotions coursed through her, including a deep warmth but also a low-key panic. Dammit, the line! She had crossed the line. Why hadn’t Sam convinced her to drink her water? Normally, they were good about pushing hydration on their drunker friends. How long did he stay?

Finally finishing her glass, River made her way to the kitchen, where her aunt and uncle were chatting at the dining room table.

“Hi there River! Have a good time last night?” Her uncle, Frank and Joe’s father, asked.

“Uh...yeah, I did. It was fun. Kind of a lot after so much isolation, but...good. Is there any orange juice?”

“No,” said her aunt regretfully. “Sorry dear.”

“That’s okay. I’m gonna head home. Thanks for letting us take up space.”

“Anytime, sweetie! We’ll see you soon?”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

And with that, River found her jacket and her shoes and made her way out to walk back to her apartment. She shielded her eyes against the sun and ignored the thudding anxiety in her chest that stemmed from not knowing how truly bad it was.

After a long hot shower, some ibuprofen, and a granola bar, River was feeling a little better. She’d gotten ahold of Joe, who reassured her that other than her music meltdown (which happened at every party anyway), her behavior had been fine. Everyone was drunk, it wasn’t a big deal. Relieved, River had started to compose a message to Sam checking in, when she got a text from him.

Helen and I broke up.

River stared at the text, her breath quickening in excitement. This was a situation she knew how to handle. Jumping to her feet, River dressed quickly in yoga pants over a casual grey bodysuit, leaving her hair wet and her face makeup-free, and started to go through her films. For as long as they’d been friends, whenever they’d had a particularly bad day, or especially when a relationship had ended, River and Sam would curl up with the butteriest popcorn known to man and watched horror movies. The night Cordelia dumped him, they had passed out after marathoning 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. It was one of her fondest memories.

Picking out World War Z, which was an admittedly decent flick even if it hadn’t stayed true at all to the source material, River picked out a wrapped bag of popcorn and flew out the door.

I’m coming!

She quickly responded to Sam before using her phone to call an Uber. The walk to his farmhouse isn’t actually too bad, the 20 minute drive translating to about an hour long walk with a couple available shortcuts. But she wanted to get there ASAP.

Whistling to herself a little as she hopped out of the sedan idling at the end of drive, River made her way to the side stairs that led directly to Sam’s apartment above the garage. Taking the steps two at a time, she knocked on the door.

“It’s open,” she heard Sam say from inside, and she pushed open the door.

“Hey big guy! I got World War Z, I got buttery pop...corn…” River’s words trailed off for a couple of reasons. First, despite her best efforts, she was unable to hide the distinct note of excitement in her voice. Second, Sam was looking at her in a way she had never seen before. Sam was not a negative person, and he was almost never truly angry. The only other time River had ever seen him upset at her was the day in the soda shop after his breakup with Cordelia.
 

Ghostboo

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In that instance, River was absolutely confident standing her ground. There was nothing she would have chosen to do differently. Just a few days after Cordelia had taken Sam’s self confidence and ground it into tiny dust, they had all ended up at Pop’s at the same time. Cordelia with her cheerleading squad, and River and Sam with Frank and Joe.

“Do you want to go?” River had asked in an undertone, concerned. Sam swallowed hard, but shook his head. They ordered their food and sat at a table as far away as they could get, which wasn’t too much in the burger joint, but was something. Until snatches of conversation had begun to drift their way.

“I mean, what does he think? I’d stick around?” Laughter. “...big as a HOUSE!....”

Sam had kept his eyes glued to the burgers on his tray, while Frank and Joe tried to keep the conversation flowing to distract him. River, meanwhile, got up and went to the counter.

“Could I get a can of Diet Coke, please?”

The worker at the counter, who knew them all pretty well, looked past River with a raised eyebrow at the fountain drink she already had on her tray.

“You sure?”

River just looked at him.

“OK, then. Here you go.”

River began to casually shake the can as she wandered closer to the cheerleading table.

“I honestly don’t know how you did it, Cordie,” said one particularly simpering redhead. “You’re like a saint.”

“Well, I did my best,” Cordelia had responded with a clearly fake humbleness. “But a respectable person can only take so much. And, honestly, at that point, it’s about HEALTH, y’know?”

Murmurs of agreement. River planted behind the curved retro bench booth seat that Cordelia was in. The other cheerleaders sat in a circle around a central table, with half on the same booth seat, the other half in chairs around it.

“Hey, Cordie,” River asked casually, shaking the can a little harder below the height of the bench. “Out of curiosity, has anyone in your life ever actually told you to shut the fuck up?”

Cordelia exhaled the most cliche mean girls half laugh of indignation that River had ever heard.

“Oh, look who it is,” she rolled her eyes at her group, who all recovered from River’s abrasive introduction with a little giggle.

“Sorry, couldn’t help but overhear your completely conspicuous conversation,” River said with a sarcastic bite. “Thought you could use a reminder that you never deserved Sam, and will definitely never do that well again.”

Cordelia and company laughed even harder at that. Across the restaurant, Sam and Frank and Joe were sitting watching, in various states of concern. Sam’s stark horror was written across his face.

“Yeah, okay,” one of the cronies responded, even more sarcastically.

“I’ll just have to learn to survive, somehow, without a boyfriend who can’t stop eating for more than two minutes at a time,” Cordelia said with fake contriteness, winking at her friends. “Definitely not long enough to notice his girlfriend is openly disgusted. Yeah, it’s all downhill from here!”

River seemed to consider this, while in reality she was just giving the can a final intense shake. In a blink, she had pulled the can to the other side of the bench and cracked it open, spraying everyone at the table with over-fizzed Diet Coke. As soon as it was open, River put her free hand on the back of Cordelia’s head and lightly pushed it into the plate in front of her, covered in french fries and ketchup.

Screams of outrage erupted from the table, while at the same time Frank, Joe, and Sam all leaped to their feet.

“God dammit, River,” muttered Joe as he and Frank dashed to her side. Sam stayed at their table, still staring in disbelief. What could be worse than the situation had already been? It seemed like having his tiny best friend fight his battles for him while calling attention to all the embarrassing things his ex-girlfriend was saying, was the answer.

“Okay, okay, I’m done,” River said as Frank and Joe grabbed at her elbows, shaking them off. Various curses and screams still came from the now soaked cheerleaders, one of whom made a weak attempt to toss a fry back at River. It missed. Cordelia wailed as someone tried, poorly, to wipe the ketchup off her face and hair.

“Go walk it off,” said the wearily frustrated counter worker as River strode past him. “And don’t come back for a few weeks.” River rolled her eyes but exited the restaurant and didn’t look back.

So...no, River had no regrets, but Sam had laid into her the next time he saw her.

“What the hell were you thinking?” He’d demanded. “Now you can’t even go back to Pop’s until December!”

“I was thinking that she’s a bitch and I was tired of hearing her talk shit,” River said. “What’s your problem?”

“My problem is I just wanted to ignore it! That wasn’t your situation, it was mine.”

“I’m not going to listen to anyone talk about you like that,” River replied fiercely. “That makes it my situation. Does it seriously not matter to you? Hearing that kind of thing?”

At this, the wind had gone out of Sam’s sails. He sat on the edge of the bed, in the small bedroom they were arguing in, right in the same spot he would find himself accidentally sleeping in several years later.

“No. That’s not...what I’m saying. It matters,” his response was quiet.

At this, River had become contrite herself, and sat next to her friend.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“I just don’t think violence was the answer, kid,” Sam replied, coming down from his frustration to his usual rueful smile. “I wish I could still go to Pop’s with you the next few weeks, that’s all.”

“That’s fair. I’ll...try to think through things more before I act, from now on.”

Secretly, River still thought she didn’t have another way she would have wanted to handle it, but she never told Sam that. And in her defense, Cordelia and her friends now gave River and Sam a wide berth. Sometimes when Sam was alone if he ran into Cordelia she made a concerted effort to spin her poison in his ear, but he was good at letting it roll off his back. He didn’t want a shallow partner, and it didn’t matter what she thought of him or his size.
 
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Ghostboo

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Back to the present day, River took in the sight of Sam. He was wearing some clothes they had picked out on their shopping day, over an old grey t-shirt. River wasn’t blind, so she was well aware that Sam had gained a good amount of weight over quarantine, but the undershirt really emphasized how much it was. It clung to a much rounder belly than she had seen on him before. More importantly, though, was the look in Sam’s eyes. It was an intense variation on the fury he had brought into the conversation about her behavior at Pop’s that day after his last breakup. It made her breath catch in her throat. Sam didn’t say anything in response to her admittedly far too exuberant entrance, and River took the opportunity to correct to a properly remorseful tone of voice.

“How are you doing? I’m sorry to hear about you and Helen.”

“Are you?” came the very quick, and flat, reply. River felt heat starting to ride in her face, sensing the danger she was in.

“I am,” she replied honestly, “if it’s something you’re unhappy about.” Sam shook his head at that.

“Are you going to ask why we broke up? Or do you already know?” River mirrored the shake of Sam’s head.

“No, I don’t know,” she said quietly.

“She broke up with me because of you, River,” Sam said. “You convinced me to stay with you last night, which I shouldn’t have, and I fell asleep, and she saw us together. On top of a year of you making no effort whatsoever to get to know her, and me standing by you as my best friend, she finally felt disrespected enough to leave.” He wasn’t being entirely fair, and deep down, he knew that. It had been his decision to stay with River, not anybody else’s. But he was fighting a heartbreak, and lashing out.

“Shit,” River breathed. She heard a roaring in her ears as her heart thudded. Unlike their conversation after the incident at Pop’s, she couldn’t fight back. This was her, having done wrong.

“What were you thinking, River? Do you just hate sharing that much? Did you have any other real issue with her?”

River couldn’t answer, she just shook her head.

“Then what’s going on? Is it just because Jason left earlier last night?”

River looked at Sam. The comment about Jason felt like a jab, but there was a note of truth to it. The last year was the longest she’d gone without running back to him. But genuinely, she hadn’t the slightest urge to get re-involved with her toxic ex.

“Tell me the truth,” Sam said firmly, looking into River’s eyes. She took a deep breath. This was it, the end of the line. Sam was single now, and there was no reason for her to not tell the truth. Steeling herself, River looked into his eyes, gazing at her with surface anger and, right below it, intense hurt.

“I’m in love with you,” she told him. “I have been for awhile - I figured it out about a year ago, when Frank and Joe did - but I’m not actually sure how long it’s been. But...that was why I ended things with Jason, finally, and I’ve never looked back. Not once, this time. And I swore I wouldn’t say anything to you as long as you were in a relationship. Your happiness is the most important thing to me.” After seeing the utter and complete shock cross Sam’s face, River averted her eyes to the floor next to Sam’s shoes and kept speaking determinedly. “But, of course, then last night Drunk River has to come along and completely fuck everything up - I am so sorry. That’s the truth. I wanted you there, and...and I probably did want to sabotage what you had, deep down.” River’s voice broke. She couldn’t believe what she was saying, but she never wanted to lie to Sam. Might as well lay it all out on the table.

“Frank and Joe knew?” Sam choked out. River nodded.

“I also made them swear not to say anything. It’s all unforgivable of me, I know. But…” River forced herself to look up into Sam’s eyes again with a shaky breath. “I want you to know that I can go talk to Helen. Right now, if you want. I can tell her everything. That it was all my fault. That I...begged you to stay with me. Knowing that you’re too good of a guy to leave me...or anyone, really...drunk and alone. That I iced her out because of my own selfish feelings. I can fix this.”

Sam was speechless. He sat heavily on his bed, rubbing one hand across his forehead and back through his wavy chestnut hair. The other hand tapped fingers lightly on his thigh, right in front of the impressive expanse of grey-clad belly that took up most of his lap. River stood stock-still, aside from nervously picking at the edge of the DVD in her hand. After several agonizing minutes that ticked by in silence, River asked quietly,

“What do you think?”

“I think...I think I need to think,” Sam said back, catching her eyes then looking away. “I think you should go.”

River nodded, swallowing hard. She ignored the burning behind her eyes as she turned to the door. At second thought, she paused, then left the World War Z DVD and popcorn on the table next to the door. She figured he might still need them, even if it was without her. Silently, she walked out the door and shut it behind her.

River didn’t call a ride share this time. She started on the long walk home. She made sure that she was far enough from the farm and far enough from the town to be seen, before she started to really sob.
 
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