It was a cool and cloudy autumn day when a sparsely populated apartment complex gained a new resident. They were a short, curvy person wearing slightly loose jeans and a black waffle-knit sweater with a skull emblazoned on the front. Their greying dark brown hair was cropped into a military haircut. Their features gave them the appearance of a teenager, concealing their real age of thirty years.
They scanned their new apartment with bespectacled dark brown eyes. It was furnished with some essential items, like an old compact fridge, an old electric range, and an old captain's bed with drawers. They struggled to bring in their belongings, such as clothes, tools, and bedding.
As they worked on setting up their utility garden, they noticed an unconscious man laying on the ground nearby. They approached the man to check for life. The man was, but there was a strong smell of ethanol coming from him. He looked considerably older, with unkempt red hair that had gone grey. His clothing, a slate blue tie-closed cardigan over a dark red t-shirt, grey sweatpants, and slippers, were stained with vomit.
The person brought him inside their apartment and cleaned him up before putting a robe on him and covering him in a soft blanket. They treated the stains before washing the clothes. They tidied up the house before putting the clothes in the dryer and began cooking food and preparing coffee.
After a while, the man woke up, his head pounding with the force of ten hammers.
"Uhhh..." He groaned. "My head..."
As he touched his head, it felt wet to the touch. He pulled his hand away in surprise and looked at the robe in shock.
"Why am I naked?" He uttered to himself. "Why is my hair wet?"
He walked out of the bedroom and found the person in the kitchenette. He was looking at them, puzzled as to whether the person was a man or woman.
"Hey, you're up!" The person piped up. "How do you like your coffee?"
"Black..." He replied. "Where the hell am I? Why am I naked?"
"I saw you in the yard next door, passed out." They replied. "As for the robe, your clothes are in the dryer. Name's Carly. Carly Peters."
The man rubbed the back of his neck before introducing himself.
"Gabriel..." He tentatively introduced himself. "Gabriel Wilson..."
"Nice to meet you." Carly said, extending their hand. It was tiny, haggard, and a little scarred.
"Uhh..." Gabriel uttered as he hesitantly shook their hand. "Nice to meet you too, I guess..."
Carly gave him a cup of black coffee and oatmeal to eat. The coffee was strong enough to create a ring of foam.
"Agh...!" Gabriel said after taking a sip of the potent brew. "Are you trying to put hair on my chest or what?"
"Probably explains why I'm so hairy." Carly joked before chuckling.
Carly drank their coffee and ate their oatmeal. The table was small with a salt- and pepper formica top. It was big enough for two chairs. On top was a paper towel holder and shakers for salt and pepper.
"If you need anything, feel free to talk." Carly offered. "In fact, here's my number."
Carly wrote a phone number on a napkin and gave it to Gabriel.
"I gotta get your clothes out of the dryer." Carly said as they rose from their seat.
Carly came back with Gabriel's clothing, now soft, warm, and clean from the laundering. They handed Gabriel the contents of his pockets as well.
"Can I go home now?" Gabriel asked.
"Sure." Carly replied. "I'll walk you home."
"But you live next door to me." Gabriel said.
"I know." Carly responded. "I still want to make sure you're safe."
Gabriel groaned. He went into the bathroom to change. He had an emaciated body and jaundiced skin, indicating liver damage. He put his clothes on and left with Carly.
Upon arriving at Gabriel's place, Carly stood beside Gabriel as he fumbled with the keys before unlocking his apartment. He turned to face Carly with a look of embarrassment. From what little view the cracked door offered, his apartment had been neglected for years, the floor sporting glass booze bottles.
"Listen..." Gabriel started. "Thanks for helping... But you don't have to help me."
"Like I said before, if you need anything, even just a chat, call me." Carly offered. "Or I can call you to check up on you if you'd rather."
"I-I'll do the calling..."Gabriel said, nervous.
Carly hugged Gabriel, who tensed up and looked around. He tentatively put a hand on their shoulder, as if he was attempting to reciprocate the gesture. Carly let go of the hug afterwards and took a small step back.
"I hope I see you again." Carly said, causing Gabriel to freeze.
"Sure..." Gabriel responded. "I-I guess..."
Later that night, Carly got out of the shower. They had finished unpacking to make tea when their phone rang. When they answered, it was Gabriel on the other end.
"H-Hey, Carly...?" Gabriel spoke, his voice quivering and breaking with distress.
"Gabriel, is something wrong...?" Carly asked, suddenly concerned.
"C-can I come over...?" Gabriel asked in response.
"Sure." Carly replied. "I only have one bed, but it's big enough for two people."
"Thanks..." Gabriel said, snuffling. "My god, what am I doing...?"
"You reached out for help." Carly responds. "Whatever you're going through, it sounds
"It is..." Gabriel said. "I'll tell you when I'm there..."
Gabriel arrived, his clothes partially damp from the beginning rainstorm. His face was wet with tears from a breakdown.
"Let's get you inside." Carly said as they guided Gabriel into the house. "I was gonna order pizza when you called. What some...?"
"S-sure..." Gabriel replied.
"What topping do you want on your pizza?" Carly asked. "I'm doing individual ones."
"Uhh..." Gabriel uttered in thought. "Mushrooms, I guess..."
"Got it." Carly responded as they filled the order on their smartphone.
Carly when to the bedroom and grabbed a pair of purple fleece pajamas. Due to the size differences being minor, the fleece pajamas fit Gabriel nicely.
"What kind of herbal tea do you want?" Carly asked. "I've got peppermint, chamomile, raspberry, peach tree, and blueberry."
"P-peppermint..." Gabriel replied.
Carly got up and turned on their electric kettle, the bottom glowing a bright blue as the water began to start boiling.
"I called you because I..." Gabriel started. "I tried to do something bad to myself."
"I see..." Carly responded. "If it helps you get better, I'll be your friend."
"Thanks..." Gabriel uttered
Carly got the pizzas and soda when it arrived and tipped the driver. The checked the pizzas and gave the mushroom one to Gabriel. When Carly opened their pizza, Gabriel was struck by a pungent, fishy odor.
"Oh my god!" Gabriel exclaimed. "What is that smell?"
"Anchovies." Carly nonchalantly answered before taking another bite of their pizza, the saliferous umami of the anchovies overtaking their taste buds.
"It reeks...!" Gabriel said.
"It does, and I like it." Carly responded, eliciting a light chuckle from him. "I have some spare toothbrushes. I can give you one to use over here."
Carly washed the mugs and coffee press before brushing their teeth. Carly gave Gabriel one of the extra toothbrushes.
"What are you...?" Gabriel asked.
"What do you mean?" Carly responded.
"Are you a guy?" Gabriel asked. "A girl?"
"Neither." Carly replied.
"Huh...?" Gabriel uttered in confusion.
"Neither one fit me." Carly explained.
"Uhh..." Gabriel was trying to process what was just said. "It's new to me... But I think I
"Thanks." Carly responded. "Hey, do you want a separator between us when we sleep?"
"N-no..." Gabriel replied. "You don't have to do that. I'll be fine."
"Okay." Carly said. "You can have my side."
Carly went to sleep beside Gabriel. He felt scared and cuddled them. The orange glow of the street lamps flooded the room through the blinds. Gabriel eventually closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep.
Carly woke up to the rooster alarm, finding themself being cuddled by Gabriel. He was curled up in a semi-fetal position with his arms tightly around them. The part of the bed where his head lay was tamp with tears from crying. Carly gently woke him up.
"Hey, you okay?" Carly asked, concerned.
"What do you mean?" Gabriel responded.
"You were cuddling me awful tight." Carly replied. "And part of the bed where your face was is damp."
"Shit..." Gabriel uttered. "I'm sorry... I'm really sorry..."
"Gabriel, it's okay..." Carly responded. "Something scared you... I'll make us some coffee and breakfast..."
Carly made breakfast as gabriel got dressed. He saw his emaciated appearance in the mirror and felt distressed by it.
"You want some oatmeal pancakes, Gabe?" Carly asked.
"I-I guess..." Gabriel replied.
Carly poured blackstrap on their own pancakes and asked Gabriel what topping he wanted.
"J-Jelly, I guess..." Gabriel stammered.
Carly applied strawberry jelly on Gabriel's pancakes before handing the plate to him. Gabriel started to eat the pancakes before scarfing them down. The pancakes were a little dense and moist with pieces of oats. Carly got dressed and washed the dishes. Gabriel offered to help, putting things where Carly instructed.
"Thanks for helping me..." Gabriel muttered.
"No problem." Carly responded, hugging Gabriel again.
Gabriel flinched less than the last time. He dreaded going back to his place because the mess would trigger the awful
"What's wrong?" Carly asked.
"I don't want to go home." Gabriel replied, nervous. "It's a mess... And I'll be alone..."
"We can visit each other daily if you want." Carly offered. "I can help you clean up too."
"Oh no..." Gabriel laughed nervously. "I-I've taken advantage of you as it is. I-it'd be wrong of me to ask that of you."
"I don't mind helping." Carly responded. "It's what I'm here for."
Carly packed cleaning supplies such as dish soap, window cleaner, laundry detergent, carpet shampoo, and others before accompanying Gabriel to his apartment. Carly and Gabriel began cleaning by picking up the rubbish and clothing. Carly ran their Kirby to suck up the dust and hair before scrubbing would commence. After the floor was picked up, Carly plugged in the carpet shampooer and went to town on the carpets. The water that the shampooer sucked back up looked dark and opaque. Gabriel mopped the floor to clean it up. Afterwards, they washed the dirty dishes, disposed of bad food, dusted, and scrubbed the bathroom.
"How do you feel now?" Carly asked.
"A little better, I guess." Gabriel replied. "Sore, but it's less chaotic..."
"I have a reel mower, a mattock, and some homemade fertiliser." Carly offered. "I can help you restore your yard if you like."
"Please stop...!" Gabriel replied, embarrassed. "You've done so much already... A-all right... But can you stay the night tonight?"
"Sure." Carly replied. "I just need to pack some things."
Carly packed a spare change of clothes, a set of pajamas, basic toiletries, and a hair brush. The spare clothing consisted of a pumpkin sweater and underwear. They then returned to Gabriel's apartment to find him looking at the pictures.
"Carly, come here..." Gabriel said. "I want to show you something..."
Carly sat by him as he thumbed through the photo album. One of the pictures that stood out to Carly was that of Gabriel as a young man being hugged by a beautiful woman with pin straight black hair. Gabriel's hair in the picture was a vibrant auburn color and his ocean blue eyes were visible for all to see.
"She's beautiful..." Carly said.
"She was my wife..." Gabriel replied, his voice breaking. "Was married to her for fifteen years..."
"What happened...?" Carly asked.
A tear formed in his lonely blue eyes as he processed the question.
"She died..." Gabriel finally replied. "We slid on black ice and crashed... I never got to say goodbye..."
Gabriel cried after that as the painful memories flooded back. Carly hugged him and dried his tears with their sweater sleeve.
"I'm going to order some food." Carly said. "What would you like to eat?"
"Some Chinese sounds good." Gabriel replied.
Carly ordered some family-style bean curd and Gabriel ordered wontons. They enjoyed a hot meal together before Carly showered and the two went to bed in clean sheets.
"Hey, let's go get flowers and groceries tomorrow, okay?" Carly asked.
"It's a little late to plant flowers, but sure..." Gabriel replied.