Right now, at this moment, Joe is a lonely guy.

Lonely is a strange sensation because Joe is rarely a lonely guy. Convivial is more like it. Jovial. Happy-go-lucky.

But that was before Betty left.

Betty, the light of his life, brighter than the brightest ray of sun. Like the sunbeam slanting through the plate-glass window to his left, casting a backward “Fluff & Fold Laundromat” shadow on the dull linoleum floor.

Lonely Joe sits in a hard plastic laundromat chair, waiting. Waiting for Betty to return. Today was the day. She had made a promise. He was unsure exactly what time, so he waited. It was all he could do.

The laundromat was a really dull place to wait, but he did it anyway. There was nothing to tempt his senses but an off-balance washing machine dancing a jitterbug and a merry-go-round industrial dryer humming blandly, exhaling “springtime fresh” air.

He got lost in his head, which was a dangerous neighborhood. He was thinking about Betty and aching inside. Soon, he knew. Soon. He couldn’t let himself think for even one moment that she wouldn’t keep their date. It was too much to consider.

No, he’d done his time. Four days in exile from what he wanted the most.

Four days without her had been like torture. He couldn’t sleep right if she wasn’t tucked in there at his side. He kept waking up, reaching out for her, crying out into the inky darkness. All that replied was emptiness.

A big empty.

In the four days, he’d tried others, sure. Picked ’em up, held them to his side and tried to pretend it was ok. But none of them fit. Too big, too small, too different. None had the “yeah, that’s the one” just right feel he had with Betty and Joe was left with an aching in his chest.

The plastic Laundromat chair grew more uncomfortable as he waited, so Joe shifted his legs. He could physically feel the lack of her in the core of his body. He watched the clock. An old-fashioned cuckoo number, with two tiny rail workers, tapping alternately with tiny sledgehammers, keeping time.

Tap. Tap. Tap. The soundtrack of his utter isolation. The seconds ticked as the long hand dragged its way around the face, swimming through molasses.

He gave over to memories. He couldn’t help it. Without her physical presence, memories were all he had.

Like the day they first met. Christmas, just a year ago. Hard to believe he’d grown so attached so soon, but he had. He’d been wolfing down a breakfast of eggs and a cinnamon roll when she appeared. His own special gift. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She was shiny and new and lit up the room.

He felt shy at first with this enigmatic new creature, but he was interested. Oh was he interested, but he fought it.

There was one before her. Joe was a loyal guy but he had to admit things with that other one hadn’t been as fun. The luster was off the finish. The bloom was off the rose. Betty showed up just when he needed her most.

Joe didn’t realize how ripe he was for the picking until Betty entered his life-like a firecracker on steroids. She wore a simple red dress and her deep coffee-colored eyes sparkled like a lake under a full moon. As much as he tried to set Betty aside and stay with the one he was with, she became impossible to ignore.

It wasn’t just Joe who was drawn in like a moth to Betty’s flame. He saw his buddies look her over plenty. In fact, not long after Joe and Betty had become inseparable, Joe’s own best friend David had the sheer audacity to walk right over and touch her. Looking at his girl was one thing, but to lay a hand on her?

Joe flew into a rage and gave David a hard shove. The two tussled at it. David bloodied Joe’s nose. Joe kicked David hard. When they were finally separated, the fight and the friendship were over. Because of Betty.

She was worth it.

And so he waited. Waited for his very heart to return.

It had all gone crazy four days ago. Some stuff hadn’t gone right earlier in the day. He’d gotten called out for something that wasn’t his fault, and he came home in a temper. He said some things. He did some things. It’s easy to take out all the frustrations on the one at home. The one you know won’t leave.

Only she did. She left.

Well, she was taken away, actually. She would have stayed if it was her choice, but no. Meddling parties like to think they know what’s best. They made Betty leave.

Joe hadn’t cried since he couldn’t remember when, but he cried. He shut himself in his room and lost it. Betty was his true north. Without her compass guide, he was lost and drifting.

Four days was the sentence handed down. The words repeated in his head, “Four days, so you’ll learn respect.

Four of the longest, most agonizing days of his life.

On the fourth day, Lonely Joe waited, watching the clock. The tick tock tapped the rhythm of his suffering.

Joe looked down at his shoes with unseeing eyes. He was staring through the floor, willing time to pass.

Lost in memory, thinking only of her, a voice cut through the fog.

“Hey Joey! Baby, come here.

His head snapped up. He leapt up and ran over to the open door of a cavernous dryer where a woman stood holding his precious Betty roughly by one arm.

“We’re leaving in ten minutes,” his mom said.

Joe nodded as Beatty Bear slid into the crook of his arm. He buried his face in the space between her ears.

– © Karen Fayeth, 2015

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