Jo Varnish: Bobby Briggs and the Wrong Ryan Miller Collection

‘You think because I wasn’t at football practice, I killed my girlfriend?’

The strain in his voice was as apparent as the grief strewn across his face. In his high school library, Bobby Briggs was leaning down, over the sheriff, who sat at the table before him. Wearing jeans, black boots, unlaced, a blood red sweater under a black leather jacket, and flanked by two officers, Bobby Briggs was losing his temper. His dark brown hair was parted in the middle, framing his smooth tanned face, which contorted in anger and disbelief…

My cell phone rang, and I moved forward to read its screen. Maddy. Placing my bowl of popcorn on the table, I hit pause on the remote, rendering Bobby Briggs suspended mid-speech. Maddy was likely calling with an update on the Ryan Miller search.

She had met Ryan Miller a month before at a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans, and drunken, flirtatious conversation had revealed that he lived near Atlanta, as does she, and further drinking and flirting had revealed a well sculpted body and their sexual compatibility. I had heard how he carried her across her hotel room, how they had sex twice before sleeping a while and then once more in the morning. Having not been brave enough to ask for his number and pining for a few weeks, we were now three days into a cyber-search, having learned there are 413 Ryan Millers in Georgia. We began looking at Instagram and Facebook profiles, and I remained optimistic.

‘Hey Mads, what’s up?’

‘Ugh, my day is already shit.’

‘What happened?’

‘I dropped Josie at school ten minutes late. Ten frigging minutes.’

Maddy was a single mother to her sixteen year old daughter and the two of them shared a comradeship that I, childless at forty, both admired, and engaged in vicariously.

‘Go on…’?

‘So I drop her and I’m driving off and she calls me on her cell phone. I’m late for work, I’m trying to rush, but I pick up.’

’Seems the appropriate motherly response…’, I said, amused.

‘So Josie says that Attendance needs to speak to me, to explain the tardiness. I mean, come on. So I’m pissed and I say, ‘for fuck’s sake Josie, you’re a straight A student, this is your first tardy.’

’First?’ I said.

‘Okay, third max, possibly fourth. And I say, ‘those frigging women in that office have nothing better to do than get on you for being late by ten fucking minutes?’ And there’s this pause and Josie says, ‘Mom, so, you’re like on like speaker… with the Attendance ladies.’

Grinning, I responded, ‘ooh that’s rough,’ and wrapped my hand around my warm owl mug, bringing it to my lips for a sip of hot chocolate.

‘Brutal. So how about you Sheryl love? How’s New Jersey this morning? Are you at work already?’

‘Nope,’ I said, ‘remember I have the two days off while the guy fixes the electrics in the basement and my garage door?’

‘Oh, of course. So how are you spending your days of leisure? Jesus, this traffic.’

I looked across the room at the pile of legal documents I was supposed to be reviewing for work, sitting untouched on the window seat where I had stacked them the night before.

‘I’m watching Twin Peaks. Remember who I loved from Twin Peaks?’ I knew she did.

’How could I forget? Bobby Briggs. We were, what, fourteen, 8th, 9th grade? You worshipped him.’

‘Yes! Well the guy doing the garage door looks like him. A lot. That’s what made me think to watch it.’

‘He’s cute? Like Bobby Briggs cute? Garage door guy? You like him?’

‘Yeah, he’s hot. Seriously hot. Tall, dark hair, olive skin, good teeth, tall, did I mention tall?’

‘Sheryl. Make. It. Happen. You are basically celibate at this point.’

‘You’re not that far ahead of me!’

‘My problem isn’t landing the guy,’ Maddy said. ‘It’s being confident enough to follow through. So yes, given that there are likely moths in your panties by now, I am pretty far ahead.’

‘Yeah yeah yeah. Okay, tell me about the elusive Ryan Miller,’ I said, ready for a change of subject.

‘Okay, so Wrong Ryan Miller numbers 2, 4, and 5 have accepted my follow requests on Instagram. Now I can see that none of them are him, I just unfollow, right? I don’t need a frigging Wrong Ryan Miller collection.’

‘No! That’s so cold! Just follow them, at least for a while.’

’Ever the bleeding heart, Sheryl. Okay, I have a couple calls to make before I get to work, so enjoy Twin Peaks and I want to hear that you’ve made progress with Garage Door Bobby Briggs, you hear me?’

’Yes sir,’ I put the phone back on the coffee table, and leaned back into the sofa, bringing my feet up underneath me.

Later that afternoon, after a brief trip to the supermarket, and absolutely no progress with Garage Door Bobby Briggs, who had left for the day, I was rolling out pastry, turning it over to create a vaguely circular shape. The image Maddy had conjured of moths flying out of my panties made me smile, and my thoughts escaped to the last man who had shared my bed, my life, my heart.

Clarke, who had told me after my grandmother’s funeral last year that we were breaking up. As I stood among the small neat granite headstones, the larger sculptures, the old solemn trees, and the incongruous brazen red 15 mph signs, he had told me, ‘I’ll be leaving this weekend,’ and I had let his words go unanswered. Let him walk away and out of my field of vision, out of my house and my future.

Once the pie was full of fat cherries in their thick mixture, delicate pastry leaves decorating the top crust, foil protecting the edges, I placed it in the hot oven and let the house fill with the aroma of comfort. My phone beeped, signalling a text. Wiping my hand on my pants, I picked it up, and saw that it was Maddy.

‘FOUND HIM!!’

‘No way,’ I typed, opening the fridge to reach for a half-full bottle of Malbec.

‘I friend requested him on FB and he messaged to say he wants to meet for lunch. TOMORROW!’

‘Lunch? How are you going to sleep with him during work hours? Haha.’

I pulled out the cork I had wedged in the bottle a couple nights before with an unsatisfyingly quiet pop, but enjoyed the glugging as I filled my glass.

‘No sex. Not happening. I want this to last. Not shaving my legs to ensure no sex.’

I smiled and typed, ‘The last time you tried that you texted me from some random’s bathroom at 3 am as you hacked at your legs with his rusty razor.’ I sipped my wine, its hearty aroma mingled with the smell of the pie.

‘Those were the days Sheryl! I have high hopes for this guy – no more sex for a few dates. Call me after, good night and good luck xx’

The next morning, as the sunlight fell through my bedroom window, casting oblongs of light across the wooden floor, I held up a few outfits in front of the mirror. Inspired by Maddy’s success, I imagined being able to tell her I had secured a date with Garage Door Bobby Briggs. I chose a tightish white top with a few buttons, some of which I could leave undone to reveal a little cleavage, and my ripped jeans, which I told myself were casual enough for a day at home, although sexy too.

When I heard the scrape and roll of the side-door of his van, I went downstairs, and opened the front door. As he was still standing at the side of his van, leaning inside, back to me, I had an awkward few minutes, deciding whether I should call, ‘Hi there!’ or just stand at the door in the cold morning air, or close the door and pretend I hadn’t ever been there. I was about to choose the latter when I worried that he had sensed my presence and that disappearing now would be even weirder than the fact that I was standing at the front door to greet him as he rummaged around for his tools.

‘Oh, Miss Day, hi,’ he called from the driveway, pulling the sliding door half closed behind him.

‘Sheryl, please.’ I tried to sound seductive and breathy. In retrospect, it was probably too breathy.

‘Excuse me?’ He shouted from across the lawn.

‘I said, call me Sheryl.’

’Sorry, what’s that?’

‘I said, it’s Sheryl,’ I yelled, way too loudly, and slightly maniacally. I wondered if normal people had better volume control.

‘Hi Sheryl.’

What was I supposed to yell now? ‘Hi.’ A two second or four hour pause ensued.

‘So, I’ll just get started then?’

‘Would you like some home made cherry pie?’ I gave what I hoped was a knowing and sensual smile, opening my mouth slightly, and drawing my eyes to a half-closed position.

Garage Door Bobby Briggs broke into a grin. And my stomach rippled inside. He wiped his hair away from his face with the back of his hand, and I imagined him walking over to me and taking my face in those hands and pushing his lips against mine.

’8am is a little early for me, can I take a rain check?’

Shit. Why had I used my best seduction card this early? Not just my best seduction card but my only seduction card.

‘Sure,’ I said quickly, stepping back inside and shutting the door. I turned and leaned back against it, feeling its cool through my shirt. Maddy was right. I always wait for things to happen to me. But it was becoming apparent there was a reason for that. A loud knock on the door made me startle, my arms involuntarily flinging upwards. Opening the door again, I saw an amused Garage Door Bobby Briggs.

‘Hello?’ I said.

‘Um, Sheryl, you know I need to come inside to get down to the basement to fix the garage door?’

I pulled my phone out of my back pocket as an excellent ruse, to pretend I had been distracted.

‘Of course, I was just… yup, this way, well you.. know the way…’

As he went downstairs, I stepped into the kitchen and cut a huge slice of pie, plump cherries oozing out of the sides in their dark red velvety sauce. Josie had told me the last time I went to visit them in Atlanta, that I tend to eat my feelings. I liked that phrase.

I settled on the sofa to watch some Twin Peaks and eat some embarrassment in the form of decadent and delicious cherry pie.

Three and a half episodes, a cup of coffee, and two slimmer slices of pie later, just as the one-armed man appeared to Agent Cooper alongside Laura Palmer in the red room, Maddy called. I hit pause and sat cross-legged on the sofa, a cushion on my lap.

‘Hey Maddy, how was it?’

‘Fucking awful.’

My back straightened. ‘What happened?’

‘Turns out he needed to see me ASAP to make sure I didn’t make a fuss, because he didn’t want his frigging wife to find out.’

I shut my eyes. ‘Oh God. Married.’

‘And what’s really bad is that he really is as hot as I remembered. Fucker. I told him he has nothing to worry about, I’ll withdraw my friend request and retreat gracefully.’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry Mads.’

‘The one positive was that, as I was walking away, I got a message from him saying he really likes me, that I made him laugh, and although this may make him sound bad, he’ll be at Mardi Gras next year and is going to keep my number.’

‘You’ll meet him again? Eventhough he’s married?’

‘No, absolutely not. Definitely not. And even if I did, I mean… No, no I won’t. But he is really cute.’

‘Uh huh.’

‘It was validating though, you know? To get that message, to know we did have a connection, that it wasn’t all in my imagination. Thanks for encouraging me to do that, I needed that nudge. Anyway, is your Bobby Briggs there?’

‘He’s in my basement.’?

‘Please God tell me that’s a euphemism.’

‘Very amusing Maddy.’

’Jesus, just ask him out will you?’

‘It’s not that easy, I’m not good at small talk with new guys.’ I leaned forward and smeared my finger over the remnants of the cherry filling coating part of my plate.

‘Which might wrongly imply,’ said Maddy, ‘that you are skilled at medium to large talk with new guys… Just make a move. Kiss him. Make things happen, Sheryl!’

‘How did making things happen work out with Ryan Miller?’ I asked, pushing my finger in my mouth and licking off the sweet sauce.

Before I had a chance to hit play again, I heard Garage Door Bobby Briggs coming up the stairs from the basement. Buoyed by Maddy, and inspired by watching Audrey Horne’s sexy turn on Twin Peaks, I felt I had nothing to lose. I stood up, opened the only fastened button on my top, and then quickly moved my hair across the button hole to cover the cherry stain I had created. The door to the basement opened. I was standing, oh God why was I standing? People don’t just stand in rooms.

‘Hey Sheryl?’ Garage Door Bobby Briggs stepped into the kitchen. He really was objectively gorgeous in my subjective opinion.

‘Yes?’ I said, trying to sound surprised.

‘I have to run out for a part, and then I probably only have an hour left and you’ll be all set.’

I noticed some tiny dots of sweat along his hairline, and tried to focus on finding a great line to say, but all I could think about was his salty skin.

’Okay.’ Not the most impressive line.

His eyes moved downwards towards the coffee table. ‘Looks like you’re getting through that pie.’

‘I rarely eat sweets.’ I had no idea why these words left my mouth; I didn’t choose them. I don’t even talk like that.?

Garage Door Bobby Briggs tipped his head to the side and beamed a grin at me.

I smiled back and looked away.

‘You’re a funny girl, Sheryl Day. I like you.’

I didn’t trust my mouth at this point, so I kept it closed and focused on smiling.

‘I wish you could teach my wife how to make pies like that. Seriously. Anyway, I’ll be back soon.’

I watched his van reverse out of my driveway and dialled Maddy. When she answered, I didn’t wait for her to say hello. ’He is frigging married too!’

‘Nooo!’ Maddy screeched, and I detected the slight echo of the speaker phone.

‘Oh no, Sheryl,’ said Josie. ‘Mom’s kept me up to date. Did you try and kiss him?’

’Oh hey Josie,’ I said, ‘yes married, no, no kiss attempt. So we have no good news today.’

‘Well…’ said Maddy, her voice light.

‘Go on,’ I prompted.

’Turns out Wrong Ryan Miller number 4 and I have quite a rapport…’

’Wrong Ryan what now?’ Josie asked.

’I’ll tell you later,’ said Maddy, ‘he messaged to ask how I came to request to follow him, and we had a bit of chat…’

‘Mom, you have a guy?’ Josie sounded excited.

’I’ll tell you later, but no, not really, not yet.’

I walked upstairs to change out of my cherry-stained seduction wear, and said, ‘Is he cute?’

‘Yeah his pictures look great and the banter’s really fun. Who knows?’

I pulled off my jeans as I propped the phone between ear and shoulder. ‘Well, I’m going to get into my comfy clothes now, put my hair up, finish my pie, have some chips and cookies, and binge watch Twin Peaks until I fall into a food coma.’ As we hung up, I could hear Josie ask her mom, ‘well, who’s Ryan?’

When Garage Door Bobby Briggs returned, I was watching television in my sweats and eating chocolate chip cookies.

He let himself in and walked through to the living room, his attention caught by the screen where Bobby Briggs was comforting Shelly after Leo had attacked her.

‘Twin Peaks, right?’ he said, still watching.

’Yup,’ I answered, ‘I was a big fan way back when.’

‘I never really watched it, but everyone used to say my brother Harry was a dead ringer for that guy… Jesus, he really did look just like that. Still kinda does actually.’

I curled a rope of hair around my finger, tightly winding it so my flesh puffed out in between each strand. Make things happen. I opened my mouth, and closed it again. He was still looking at the screen.

‘So,’ I said, and he turned towards me. Letting my hair spring free, I pulled a cushion onto my lap and hugged it closely. Make things happen. Avoiding eye contact at all costs, I took a deep breath, and said, ‘so, I don’t suppose he’s single?’


Having moved from her native England aged 24, Jo now lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.  Her work has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, The Bangalore Review, Necessary Fiction and PANK Magazine.  Last year, Jo was a writer in residence at L’Atelier Writers in France.  Currently she is studying for her MFA and working on her novel while her pit bull sits on her lap.