With Rio snug under Hank's arm, Bumbles no longer controlled how fast they had to walk. The search for Milton was put on hold, since the dog was heading for Rio's flat. She unwrapped herself from Hank when her cell phone began playing a Korean pop song. After digging it out of her purse, she turned her head away in the false hope of privacy.
"Hai," Rio grunted to the person who had called. For almost two minutes, she mostly listened while the caller mostly talked. Hank could tell it was a woman by way the phone buzzed. And by the way Rio smiled, she could have listened to her talk forever.
Whenever Rio spoke into the phone, she cupped her hand over her mouth. "Ah… Leanne-sama," she said. "Tomari kyaku."
The woman caller squealed. Though embarrassed, Rio glowed. "Futari," she said after the squealing stopped.
The next squeal made Rio's phone buzz so loud that she rolled her eyes. There was no way to hide what the caller then said.
"Ooh! Are they boys or girls?"
"Ooh!" the caller said again. "Watashi-tachi no tame? Yeah yeah, maybe? For real?"
"Ach, hai!" Rio grunted before hanging up.
"She sounds excited," Hank said while grinning. He knew Rio had told her roommate to expect male company. "So tell me about your friend."
"Her name is Leanne. She just got home from work. In Sweden, or something."
"Is she all right with you bringing home a dog?"
"Yeah. And she won't mind Bumbles either."
Hank stepped into Rio as punishment, making her stumble and swear. "Look, Rio-san. Be nice. Okay? Let's behave for your friend."
"Hai. Okay. But you must not say things. Do you see? Don't talk about Milton being missing, or Bumbles and bad guys, or about RMing. She doesn't know these things."
"What do you tell her you do for a living?"
"Just never mind. Don't say what I do. Or what you can do. Or anything."
Using many bows, Rio introduced Hank to Leanne at the door of her third floor flat. Rio kept her eyes to the floor, while Leanne stared at Hank. He was strong enough for a man, having spent years unloading trailers and stocking shelves at Asok's, but Leanne had the body of a weightlifter. Her muscles were covered with layers of womanhood, making her soft and warm, even though she looked like she'd been cast in bronze. She could no doubt cradle Hank in her arms, with both her breasts being big enough to suckle him like a baby.
Leanne had burgundy hair running down past her shoulders, covering them with curls. It now made sense why Rio fussed with trying to put waves in her pin straight hair. But curly hair and muscular bodies were their only similarities. With massive hips and electric eyes, Leanne was European dark and talked a mile a minute. So while Rio stayed home to avoid riding in a car, Leanne drove Hank back to where he'd parked Milton's Ford Fusion.
After an afternoon with Rio, Leanne was a breath of fresh air. She filled the time she had Hank captive with laughter and loud talk. "I can't believe she brought home a man. Male company! From my Rio!"
Hank also spoke with cheer. "I'm pretty sure she planned at first to just bring home the dog."
With a gorgeous smile on her suntanned face, Leanne looked Hank up and down. "Lucky me, I guess," she said.
"So, um… how do you know her?"
Leanne laughed. "Oh, I picked Rio up at the pound. She looked so sad with those big black eyes that I had to take her home and make her love me."
Hank joined in the laughter. "We're talking about the girl we left at your place, right?"
"Girl? She lets you call her Girl?"
"Ha! No! Not a chance. She lets me call her other things, though."
"Cuss words mostly, I'll guess."
"Hoo yeah. Sometimes. But also other words."
Leanne became intrigued. "Nicer ones, I hope?"
"I try. When she, ah… let's me get away with it."
"Well, you get away with it as often as you like. Rio is all bark, and… well, I can't really say she doesn't bite."
"She's bit me a time or two."
Leanne looked at Hank again, noticing Anna's hickey. "Well then. Lucky you as well."
After a pause in the conversation, Leanne spoke more properly. "Rio didn't have any friends before Aika came to her rescue and brought her to me. You have no idea how… how hard it was for her. Now she also has Milton, a man who pays her to be with him only so she won't think he likes her. And then, how about that? She has you as well." Leanne gave Hank a poke in the arm. "You take care of her and be nice to her."
Hank pursed his lips. "I don't think that's possible. I mean, like, she won't let me."
Leanne boomed while laughing. "Well, speak louder then!" Both Leanne and Hank laughed at that. "She listens to me!"
"She does? How so?"
Leanne again became serious. "Her life hasn't been easy. She truly never had friends. Or a family either. She's always cared for herself."
"What did she do before she met you?"
"She owned a bathhouse in Japan, is all I know about it. She made a ton of money and spent it all before moving to America. Aika sponsored her after the first Japanese couple she met found out…"
Leanne shook her head a tiny bit. Even so, curly hair flew everywhere. "Nuh-uh. Never mind. Let her tell you."
"So you know Aika, too?"
"Not really. I mean, I met her once or twice when she introduced me to Rio, but I don't see her anymore. Rio does sometimes, I think."
"I met Aika today."
"You did? With Rio?"
"No. With a counselor from the PEP Center."
Leanne squealed with glee. "The PEP Center? Ooh! You're a Genius?"
Hank grimaced. "So I hear. But I don't know what for."
"What? Are you… you know? Did you test false positive?"
"That's what I think happened, but there seems to be debate. Everybody disagrees when I tell them I'm not a Genius."
"Well, if you know how to be friends with Rio, then you're a Genius at that."
Hank and Leanne shared another laugh. He noticed her driving slow on purpose, to extend their time together. When they finally reached Milton's car, Leanne spoke with authority.
"Now you follow me," she said. "I'll take you back to her. Okay?"
Hank nodded while exiting. After Leanne rolled down the passenger side window, she called out to him.
"You're not ditching us, are you?"
Hank laughed. "You know her well. She's afraid I'll do that, too."
"Well? Are you?"
He stuck his head in the open window, to smile at the woman with electric blue eyes and burgundy hair. "Not now that I've met you, I won't," he said.
"Huh," Leanne said to herself as she watched his cute butt walk away. "Lucky me again."
When Hank and Leanne arrived at her flat, Rio and Bumbles were gone. Leanne handled it calmly, not knowing that Milton was missing. She gave Hank two bowls to use for Bumbles' food and water, and while in the kitchen together, she searched for a note.
"Here we go," she said, finding one on the refrigerator. "She says she's walking the dog." Seeing Hank show relief, Leanne began asking questions. "What's with the dog anyway? Why did she bring one home?"
"Bumbles is Milton's dog. He left town without it, or something."
"Oh. I didn't know."
"It was unexpected. He may have actually kept it from Rio."
Leanne began preparing dinner for three people. "Well, I can't blame him for that. I'm tempted at times to do the same thing."
"I have a job that makes me travel. I can be gone for days. I come and go so much sometimes, I feel like a fricking yo-yo."
Leanne danced and swayed a bit as she talked to herself while making dinner. Hank marveled at the swivel of her amazing hips. Unlike Teek's skinny butt, Leanne could use her glutes and thighs to crack open coconuts. Though an inch or two shorter than Anna, and several more shorter than Hank, Leanne was a force to be reckoned with. As Hank slouched against a kitchen counter, watching her dance and chatter, suddenly she stopped.
She stared at him with her fists on her hips. "Well?" she boomed. "What are you waiting for?"
She shooed him from her kitchen. She then started shooing him from her flat. "Go on! Get out there and find her!"
"Um. I don't understand."
From a nearby table, Leanne picked up her phone. She held it straight out in front of her, directly in Hank's face. To his blank stare, she said, "Call her."
Leanne nodded sarcastically. "Ah… yeah. The dog probably won't answer. Tell her you're coming to get her."
Hank shrugged. "I don't have her number."
Leanne made a sour face. "You know Milton and Aika, but don't have Rio's number?"
"I don't have anyone's number."
"Gimme your phone," she demanded. Once in her possession, she worked the buttons on both phones, with one in each hand. "Don't worry," she said. "I do this for a living." She soon handed Hank's phone back. "There. Milton and Aika and Rio."
Hank next found himself being spun to face the door by strong arms and small hands. With a chest bump in his back for good measure, Leanne propelled him forward. "Now call her and find her, and don't come back without her!" Leanne opened and then closed the door, leaving Hank on the other side.
While driving Milton's car, Hank called Rio on the phone. Though angry about it at first, she quickly softened. She told Hank where to find her, again making him park the car so they could follow Bumbles, who led them in various directions.
"I thought you said Milton found you?" Hank asked after a while.
"Well, he said you found him. Plus, Leanne said Aika introduced you to everyone you know."
Rio spoke in monotone. "Maybe that's how it happened."
"Ah… don't you know how it happened? I mean, how do you know what happened to Milton? How do you know he's still here?"
For whatever reason, Rio spoke in loving tones while going on a tirade. "Hank, my sweet, do you honestly think all this Reality Making, and keeping track of who does what, and when and why they do it, and then also how, is just a walk in the park? I don't know what's going on most times, any more than you. RMing is hard work, you see."
Hank tried interrupting, but Rio wouldn't let him. "Besides, I've already told you my RMing is a little all fucked up, so I'm doing the best I can. Maybe you could help. You're better at it, you see."
She stopped talking and stared at him. Her face was expressionless, while he just looked confused.
"Do you know what I miss about Milton?" Hank asked after a while. "When I ask him a question, I don't get some blow-off answer."
Rio glared. She would have shot him with her death ray eyes, but they didn't seem to work. So she masked the cuss words she was thinking by being extremely nice.
"Okay, fine," she said while smiling. "Please, let's start again."
"Yes. How come it's hard for you to remember if Milton found you or if you found him?"
"Because that's not how Reality Making works. And that's an honest-to-God, Milton sort of answer. Before you think I'm blowing you off, look at what has happened. Did you pick me up, or did I pick you up?"
Rio's words floored Hank. "What?"
"Who started our relationship? You or me?"
"Well, you did, I suppose."
"Oh really? I'm still kinda deciding if I hate your guts. Did I like you when I met you? I mean, even at all?"
Hank's thoughts on the matter were so obvious that he didn't bother answering. "No," Rio confirmed. "Yet you thought I was perfect. You thought I was pretty. So you started our relationship."
"But you told me to hug you."
"Because you wanted to with every bone in your body. Because you walked into my quarters in the middle of the night. What the hell were you looking for? A place to use the john?"
Hank stared down at the ground, his fingers stuffed in the pockets of his brushed black denim jeans. "So you see," Rio said with kindness, "it's not so plain with Reality Makers who sometimes does what."
"You started it," he muttered as she spoke. "You picked me up at the subway."
"I was going to go see Aika," Rio responded without missing a beat. "You walked up to me. I told you Milton…" Rio suddenly gasped, as if a bullet had struck her heart. "Milton was missing, and you offered to help."
"You started it," Hank groused, petulant like a child.
Rio used compassion, honestly being nice. "So maybe I did. That's how RMing works. You say, 'I want that' and the world bends toward you." She touched him on the elbow, to get him to look at her. "And Hank-sama. You're good at it. Most RMers are happy with saying, 'I wish I had a girlfriend' or even 'I just want to be loved.' But you say, 'I want that person to like me,' and well… wouldn't you know? Now that person does."
Rio realized she'd put her tiny foot in her big and beautiful mouth. She struggled with remaining calm as she waited for what came next.
In his meekest and most mousy voice, Hank asked, "So… does that person like me?"
There was something about a tall young man begging for her affection that made Rio's heart go 'Boom!' She wrapped up his arm using both of hers, much to the delight of Bumbles, who yipped and bounced around.
"Yes, my sweet," she said, staring straight ahead to keep from swooning. "That person does now like you. But so do many others, because you've been careless with RMing. Or perhaps, as I can see, cunning is the word."
"Why do you say that?" Hank asked, still using his meek voice, as Rio's wild emotional swings sort of freaked him out.
"Hank-sama, lately, have you picked up women? Hmm? Or maybe they pick you up? Can you think of someone you just met who would start a relationship?" She tugged on his arm for emphasis. "Like maybe, all of them?"
He muttered and sputtered while trying to not to answer as she carried on. "So you see, we're back to what I said when you thought I blew you off. Maybe I found Milton, or maybe he found me. Reality Making is hard work, and keeping track of who does what is oftentimes impossible. Hell, I'm the only one, it seems, who can figure things halfway."
"You started it," Hank said as quiet as he could, while Rio only grinned.
- Upright. In the Den.
- Sci-Fi Action Adventure, propelled by a little Romance.
"Arise!" The star-studded empress of night
Gave me the keys to her city.
Bathed me in breath, told me of plight,
Force-fed my conscious with pity.
Pointed toward East, down past the yard
Through revolving doors of her courthouse.
Megaphones cry. "A guinea a head!
"Everything's fun at the Circus!"