Legend of the Laundromat Queen
Boy Bravery -
It was sometime in the afternoon, sometime after school. School kids were walking home or taking the bus, crowding around the bus stop as if forming some kind of mosh pit. Conversations swirled about as teenage talk and laughter carried over the air loudly. The sidewalks were crowded as students milled past one another, either in their own little world, or conversing with one or more persons. One boy seemed to stand out among the crowd. With little care he pushed hastily past others, his narrow shoulders knocking into people with little apology. A few glares were burned into his back, and when a girl called out to him in anger, all he did was turn his gaze in her direction and stared for a moment. The girl averted her eyes and pretended that nothing had happened.
He walked past them all as though they were non-existent, and didn't even care that they looked at him strangely, as though he owned a second head. The only thing he seemed to care about was the piece of paper clutched in his left hand. Neatly printed letters looked quite feminine, but even in their neatness they bore the mark of haste. He kept glancing down at the penned letters and shoving the paper back in his pocket.
He'd never been one to ask for help – anyone's help. He was a self-sufficient, quiet boy, with a few friends, but not a large group like some. His problem, however, required more than just a male mind, for his seemed to be far too simple. He'd only mentioned it to one of his best friends, the one who he knew would never tell a soul that he was seeking such particular help. They said he could find answers at the address, the one scrawled in purple and green alternating letters that had magically appeared in his locker that very day. He didn't really care about how he had procured such an item, only that the destination was the right one. There was no stopping this young man on his quest.
Blocks later and he was still walking, slightly lost, slightly confused, but mostly just wishing to find a little help. Finally he stood in front of what was supposed to be 'The Kingdom of Answers'; it was called Karny's Laundromat, though the etched and faded sign only flickered with infrequency, and the place looked a little worse for wear. For a few perplexing moments he stood with hands jammed in his pockets, staring up at the sign and taking in the surrounding neighborhood.
The streets were dirty and lined with cars of all kinds, most of them older models; no one left new cars in such a neighborhood. All of the shops hadn't been renovated since at least the seventies, perhaps even sixties. There was a Mexican marketplace just down the street a ways, and a book shop next to the Laundromat; a café here, a vacuum cleaner store there, and an adult video store a few shops away, of course. Apartments sat above each store, most of the windows too dirty to see into, or covered with old sheets or blankets. A few homeless sat scattered up and down the street, but they weren't forceful and were fine with leaving him alone.
With a final, hesitant sigh he stepped inside and was met with the heavy scent of laundry detergent and old coffee grounds. The walls were a hastily painted crisp white with a hint of blue that bounced the bright light from the fluorescent bulbs above directly into his pupils. He blinked at the light and waited for his eyes to readjust so he could make out the rest of the room. It was clean, so clean, in fact that the green-flecked grey linoleum floor gleamed, intensifying the bright lights. A counter stood directly at the back, but it sat empty, and the only person that seemed to be around was a man sleeping on a row of light blue vinyl seats next to the window with a magazine covering his face. There were a few rows of dryers and washers, all of them seemingly unused, though he heard the sound of a dryer on in the room. A radio played somewhere from in the back, but he couldn't see the source. Where was the one with the answers?
He began walking towards the back counter, intending on ringing the bell and asking if the directions given were correct. Halfway there, something caught his eye. He stopped, backing up and leaning sideways to make sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.
Indeed, what he saw was correct: legs with colorfully striped mismatched knee socks and untied bright green converse shoes sticking out of the round opening in the faded sea green dryer. Cautiously he stepped closer, jamming his hands in his pockets.
The socks that the legs wore were a combination of black, blue, purple, yellow, and lime green, alternating in a pattern. They'd been pulled up over the knees so that all he could see were socks and shoes, nothing more. The green converse shoes as well were interesting; they'd been colored and doodled on with black marker, and had all sorts of words and shapes and odd little patterns on them, with dirty white shoe laces still in tact.
"You seem a little lost." A voice startled him from inside the same dryer. He hadn't known what to expect when he'd asked his best friend to set up this meeting for him. Her voice sounded younger than he'd thought, or it might have been from the dryer. How old did you have to be in order to give answers?
He couldn't believe was going to be expected to talk to a dryer; a girl inside a dryer. As inconspicuously as he could, he attempted to see inside of the appliance, but he wasn't able to make out any definite features, except for the legs that poked out awkwardly.
"Um, I am…sort of." He mumbled.
"You don't have to be lost to look lost, but I'm sure you know what that's all about. What's your name?" she had a curious voice, and he could feel her gaze scrutinizing him even if he couldn't see her eyes.
"Bravery, Bravery Quaid."
There was a long, thoughtful pause. "The boy named Bravery, huh? Sounds poetic; how'd you end up with it?"
He'd come here to talk about his problems, not the origins of his name. His best friend had told him she would flit from conversational topic to conversational topic, perhaps without him even knowing. With a short sigh, he shrugged. "My mom thought it was patriotic at the time."
"I like it; it's like a Greek myth. Anyway, what seems to be the problem? Trouble in paradise? Broke up with your girlfriend? Want a girlfriend, but are male and therefore lack communication skills?" she paused, and he could feel her scrutinizing him again. "Is that a bit of guilt I see in your eyes? Turn sideways." Her command was a bit odd, but he did so. "Aha! So it is about a girl. I can see how the communication thing would be a problem for you."
"I didn't even say –"
"What's her name?" she inquired. Her voice sounded ethereal from inside the hollow dryer, and reminded Bravery of the Wizard of Oz.
He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Lily." The name was muttered rather quietly.
"You're going to have to speak up, young lad. I have the hearing of a seventy year-old in an industrial area. By the time I'm actually seventy, I'll probably be entirely deaf – too many concerts and loud music, but it really can't be helped."
His brows drew together, slightly perplexed at her odd comparison, but quickly dismissed it. "Her name is Lily."
"Hmm. Bravery and Lily…that doesn't sound right. And what if they got married? It just wouldn't do – far too awkward. Lily and Bravery, although that just makes her seem in charge, and no woman should wear the pants in a relationship; that just wouldn't work…" She muttered to herself, but loud enough so that Bravery could catch most of it. "Nope, it's not going to work out. Let go and move on. I'm sure there are better out there than her."
"Wait. What? How do you know that? I haven't even told you anything!" he was beginning to get extremely agitated with this girl. The idea of entreating another's help was starting to look like yet another bad idea. Why had he sought out anyone's advice? He should have just done what his gut had told him to do to begin with: deal with it himself.
"I'm just testing you, Bravery, no need to get touchy. You'd be surprised at how many people have agreed with me and left, which only proves an infatuation; it's how I weed out the die-hearts and the posers. Now," her voice was somehow soothing, as if she indeed knew the answers to Life's less important questions. "By Lily, I'm assuming you speak of Lily Chase: tall, dark hair, brown eyes, pretty, mostly goes for college boys and ivy leaguers – out of your league – and jocks – we can't forget our dearly beloved sports entertainment. Isn't she dating the quarterback?" The way she had spoken had been so smooth and unwavering that Bravery had almost missed it.
"What did you say?"
"The quarterback – you know; he's usually the rather large, dense being that throws the ball, and screams obscenities while occasionally flir –"
"No, before that – about Lily being out of my league."
"Well," her foot twitched, "she is in some respects – at least in your mind. That's the whole reason you're here isn't it? To see if I can help you snag her undivided attention so she can see the true Bravery in all of his masculine glory and fall madly in love with you?"
He frowned. "Thanks for the sarcasm."
He could tell she was smiling. "Just reality, friend. You want to be noticed by a particularly sought after girl; you want said girl to admire you for your positive qualities; however you're also finding yourself shit out of luck because you know nothing about her."
"Wh – uh…I guess." He felt sheepish admitting the fact, but truth be told, she had pretty nearly nailed it.
"No need to lie about it, unless of course you're in denial, which is more likely." Her right foot began bouncing up and down like a fidgety five year old. "Now, how about you take a seat and tell me a little about yourself: likes, dislikes, favorite hobbies, favorite music, blah blah blah – you know the drill."
Bravery wasn't sure about this girl. He didn't even know her name, didn't know what she even looked like. "How am I supposed to know you'll keep this in confidence? I don't even know who you are."
He could hear an amused smile in her voice. "Bravery, Bravery; answers are hard to come by these days, and if I happen to be wrong, you would know exactly who to kill. This way, I get to keep my anonymity, and you get your precious answers. I will promise you this: I won't be posting the things you say all over some online journal for the world to read – I still have dial up. Besides, who's to say that I won't forget all of the meaningless drivel by the time you leave?"
"But what am I supposed to call you?"
"Call me Clever." She said with some measure of mischief in her voice. "Now, out with it; who is the real Bravery inside out?"
The Bravery on the outside looked a little like a storm cloud. Dyed black hair had grown long so that it hung over most of his face, but his right eye more than the other. He wore a tight black band t-shirt and jeans with holes ripped in the knees with black converse shoes. A studded belt was worn proudly, with a silver gun belt-buckle. Dark black eyeliner lined his deep green eyes, making them stand out from his angular face. Tattoos began at his wrists and crawled up his arms until they disappeared into his shirt sleeves, and his ears were pierced and stretched, though not too wide. He'd outgrown the awkward stage of grade school and now stood at a solid five foot eleven inches with a lean physique that he didn't waste too much time in maintaining. The Bravery on the outside never spoke much, but when he did, he was fairly funny, in a cynical kind of way. Girls of all kinds loved his shy smile, the way his lips curved in that mysterious way.
She didn't care about the Bravery on the outside; she wanted to know the Bravery on the inside.
He pulled over a chair without a back rest, more of a stool, really; it wasn't terribly comfortable, but it did the job. Sitting across from the open dryer, he leaned back on a washer and folded his arms. "Um, well, I like Jazz music – pretty much the only thing I listen to. I listen to some old Classic Rock, old school underground music my mom used to listen to, and a little Indie stuff too – a few bands from concerts my band and I have played, but after awhile it all just sounds the same." He felt like he was stumbling over his words, but she didn't comment, so he continued. "I play piano – keys – played it since I was three. My mom wanted me to be a concert pianist or something, but she likes that I'm in a band. And I like science; it's about the only thing I'm good at, really."
"What kind of science?"
"Biology mostly, but Chemistry isn't so bad once you get used to it."
"You mean it helps that Lily is in your Chemistry class?" there was a smirk in her voice.
He blinked. "How –"
"Sorry for the interruption, please continue."
For a moment he didn't say a word, his brows drawn deep with confusion, but he went on. "My mom works in a grocery store full time, so I don't see her a whole lot; my dad moved out when I was a kid, and I think he's sent me a birthday card three or four months off a few times. I have a sister – Becky – and…uh, she and my mom fight a lot. She moves in and out of the house, but she talks to me sometimes. I don't know. We're pretty much your typical American family, I guess."
"And you? Do you work?"
He nodded. "I work as a dishwasher at this restaurant down my street. The work sucks, but the pay is all I have to save for college and spare change."
"Oh, the perilously uncertain institution of college. Nice. Which one?"
He rolled his eyes with a cynical expression tainting his face. "Whichever one that accepts me." His ears caught a faint chuckle from inside the worn appliance. "What about you? You going to college?"
"Me?" Her legs shifted slightly, but left no room for him to catch a glimpse of her face. "I have no ambition to go to college; it's such a bureaucratic institution, exactly like high school, except you supposedly choose to be there, and pay to be there. No, I've been giving it a lot of thought, and I think I'm going to grow wings and be a pixie and just flit around helping people all the time." She stopped when he half-smiled, one that tugged at one corner of his mouth. "You never said what you wanted to be."
He'd never told anyone what he wanted to be, not even his mother, though he hadn't really spoken to his mother heart-to-heart since she'd had a week off work last summer. He and his mom were fairly close, when she was home, but he hadn't seen her in person since last weekend. Telling personal information was something he rarely did. Now here he was telling a stranger in striped socks. "Well, I was kind of thinking of getting into medicine. I know it sounds crazy, but –" he shrugged.
"There's no need to defend yourself." She assured softly. "I think it's a great idea."
"It's an expensive idea." He mused more to himself than to her.
A long silence passed between them, and he noticed that an older woman had entered the Laundromat and was doing her laundry one aisle over. The man in the chairs had rolled over so that he was facing the window.
"Have you even said 'hi'?" the girl asked suddenly, pulling Bravery out of his thoughts.
"Lily; have you even said a 'hello' to her before? You're not one of those guys who believes he's in love with a girl he's never spoken to, are you? I hate boys like that. They're so obsessive. I'd hate to be aiding a stalker in the making."
He smirked again and shook his head, resting his forearms on his knees. "I talk to her in Chemistry; she's my lab partner. At first she was really…overwhelming – a little judgmental and stereotypical, but after awhile I kind of –"
"No need to get into that much detail, Bravery. I have the general idea."
His cheeks turned a little pink at divulging too much to a stranger. Truth be told, it was good to finally tell someone that he finally liked a girl – a popular girl in particular. He hadn't had a girlfriend since first grade, and back then relationships weren't real. "Sorry." He muttered.
"Can I ask you something?" she asked after a silent moment.
He nodded and shrugged.
"Why haven't you asked her out? I mean, if she was truly attracted to you, she'd say yes, and then you wouldn't really have a problem, which you don't have by the way. I'm pretty sure what you suffer from is a severe case of shyness, which isn't the same as an actual problem."
Bravery gave her – or rather her feet – a dubious look. "Isn't it obvious? You said it yourself: she's dating the quarterback. All I want to know is how I can get her to like me back. They said you could help."
Her foot began fidgeting again. "And I can. I just need some time, and patience, although you seem like a fairly patient person. I need to do a bit of delving into Lily's life before anything happens. We'll need to get you to sign a few documents and accept that you will not, under no uncertain terms, use the information I give you to bring harm. Oh, and there's another one saying that you won't tell people who I am, not that you know who I am, but the name in itself might be enough for my secret identity to become not so secret. We'll worry about all of that later. Tell you what; come back in a week's time – same time, same place – and we'll see what we can do."
He stood and replaced the stool to its former spot underneath a table. "Can I ask you something?"
"Why a dryer? Why not a…telephone or mask or something?" he was curious.
Her left foot twitched. "Why not? It's original, isn't it?"
He shrugged and nodded. "I'll see you next week, then."
He sauntered out of the Laundromat and wandered around aimlessly for awhile. A girl really shouldn't have been such a problem – and she probably wasn't – but at times they seemed like such complicated creatures, it was probably better that he had sought the help of a girl. Albeit she was a bit odd, a bit guarded, but she seemed to know what she was talking about, and since her gender was female, he was sure he could take her word for it. With a sigh he turned towards home, hands in pockets, hoping that next week would provide him with an answer of some sort.
A/N: I had another chapter, but it's down for re-editing. Hopefully up in a few days. Tell me what you think so far!