Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
He jumped over the fence, and landed right on a plant of unripened tomatoes.
"Fuck," Rhys muttered, stumbling; the mushiness of the ruined tomatoes squished between his toes, and he tried not to let it ick him out too much as he struggled to regain his balance. When there was a commotion beyond the fence - complete with the sweeping arc of a flashlight, glancing through the slats of the fence board - Rhys ducked, hoping to hide himself in the bonafide garden that was this stranger's backyard. His plight wasn't helped when the motion detectors fixed above the sliding glass door came to life, flooding the backyard in a harsh, fluorescent, bright-white light. Rhys' head snapped up, eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights. Beyond the light, he could barely make out the silhouette of a man, outlined in the glass door. The door slid open, and the man stepped out, squinting at Rhys.
"Can I help you?"
Rhys froze where he was, acutely aware of the tomatoes still squished between his toes. He was sure he must've looked like a crazy person - looking down at himself, he saw that in his scuffle with the police his Misfits shirt had gotten torn, his pants covered in mud, his arms covered in scratches. The ounce of weed he was carrying, stuffed into a large clear baggie and clear as day in his hands, probably didn't help either - nor did the fact that he was so high, he could barely remember his own name. He stammered.
The man, who Rhys - eyes having adjusted to the light - could now see, was younger, about mid to late twenties, wearing a nightshirt and matching, baby blue slippers. He was bald on top, but he had a wiry, fire-red beard, and wild, bright-blue eyes. He crossed his arms and moved into the yard. More police passed the fence on the other side, yelling and shouting, still looking for party-goers. Rhys cowered into the fence, glancing around in panic, watching the flashlights sweep by.
The man took another step forward, frowning as his gaze went from Rhys to the fence and back again. "Why don't you come inside? It's freezing out here."
Rhys realized he was shivering. Clutching the massive bag of weed to his chest, he nodded slowly, hesitantly following the man inside. He paused at the threshold, looking down at his tomato covered feet. He did his best to wipe them on the grass before going inside.
The floor was hardwood, bamboo, maybe. It was a small, proud house, and it was full of odd, fascinating art; lots of nude figures, homoerotic paintings, that sort of thing. They had walked into the kitchen; it was a wide, open space, with a dark wood dining table, an island with a granite top to match the counters, and decent, modest appliances. The man gestured to the table. Rhys sat the bag of weed onto it, standing next to the chair awkwardly, rubbing his hands together. The man looked him up and down.
"You hungry? I could whip something up real quick."
"Y- " Rhys paused, trying to get his stammering under control. "Y-You don't have to do that. Sorry, about your tomatoes, by the way. I was just, uh - "
"Trying to get away from the cops?" the man arched an eyebrow. "Wouldn't happen to have been attending that party up at the old Donwith house, perhaps?"
Rhys felt his cheeks flush with heat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, hand ghosting over the bag of marijuana buds. The man smirked ever so slightly.
"Have a seat. You like omelettes?"
Rhys nodded ever so slightly, slowly pulling the chair out from the table and sinking into it. The man began to pull ingredients from the fridge, retrieving a cutting board from the cabinet above the stove and starting to cut up a tomato.
"You got a name, kid?"
Rhys sat up straighter, thinking for a moment, trying to extract his name from the depths of the slushie that was his inebriated brain. He hiccuped. "Rhys."
The man crossed the kitchen with surprising speed, reaching his hand out expectantly. Rhys shook it weakly, his hand engulfed by the man's. He was glad when the man said nothing about the glove.
"Joe," the man introduced himself at last. He gave Rhys another look over, deeper this time, his eyes lingering on the fading bruises lining Rhys’ arm, punctuated by the occasional needle mark. Rhys crossed his arms, wishing he had something to cover up with. The man turned back to his cooking, saying nothing for a moment. Rhys traced shapes onto the table absently, unsure if what he should say, if he should say anything at all.
“Can I call your parents for you?” Joe asked, plating the omelette and setting it in front of Rhys, followed by a fork a moment later.
“Don’t have any,” Rhys replied without thinking, picking up his fork. He looked up to find the man staring at him again. He flushed, clearing his throat.
"My brother, um, takes care of me. But he's...at work, right now, so..."
Joe arched an eyebrow, taking the seat across from him. "He's at work, or you don't wanna get busted for going to a party and having a ginormous bag of weed?"
Rhys looked away, rubbing his hands together. “He works the night shift. Well, he works all the time, so. But I’ll just - I can finish my eggs and go.”
“Take your time,” Joe shook his head. “I don’t mind driving you home.”
Rhys’ mouth paused around the bite of omelette inside it. “You don’t even know me.”
“You’re a sixteen year old kid, high off your ass, who showed up in my backyard at four in the morning because you were running from the cops. It seems like you could use a friend, dontcha know.”
Rhys took another bite of his omelette and chewed silently, eyes narrow and sullen. Joe nodded to the weed.
“You a pusher?”
Rhys finished chewing, wishing he had a drink to wash it down with, but too socially anxious to ask for one. “Not usually. My friend asked me as a favor. Just a side hustle, you know.”
Joe nodded slowly. “You push anything harder than that?”
Rhys took another bite of omelette, shaking his head. Joe’s tone remained pointedly casual.
“And uh, what about doing? You do anything harder than weed?”
Rhys’ chewing slowed phenomenally as he thought about his words carefully. “I take medication for pain. I was in an accident a few years ago - they’re prescribed.”
Joe stared him down evenly. “Right.”
Rhys shifted in his seat, looking away again. Joe tapped the table with his finger.
“You know, the Donwith House is private property.”
Rhys scowled, fork clattering against his plate. “No one lives there. It’s been abandoned for fucking years, dude. Besides, it’s been wrecked for just as long - fuckin’ squatters pissing everywhere, junkies leavin’ needles, you know.”
“Sounds like a lovely place to spend your time,” Joe smiled. Rhys rolled his eyes.
“Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to places to party.”
Joe arched an eyebrow, shaking his head a bit. "I guess so."
Rhys went back to eating his omelette, silence enveloping them as a result. Rhys could feel Joe watching him. He finished his food quietly and then stood, carrying his plate to the sink and rinsing it, feeling Joe's eyes boring into him the entire time. He turned to face him.
"Thanks. For... everything, I guess."
Joe nodded, also getting to his feet. "We should get you home."
He left the kitchen without further ado. Rhys retrieved the bag of marijuana and followed. They lingered outside of the front door for a moment, as Joe dug through the hall closet.
"I'm assuming you don't have a winter coat, huh?"
Rhys flushed, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I'm fine."
"You're gonna freeze to death," Joe muttered, digging for a moment more before extracting a worn, flannel-lined leather jacket. He handed it to Rhys, who knew better than to argue, and instead slipped it on. It was a bit too big, swallowing his thin frame; he managed to fit the ounce of weed into the inner pocket, though. The jacket was admittedly warm, and Rhys hated how comforting it was.
"Better?" Joe asked, and Rhys nodded. Joe nodded in approval, shut the closet door, and led him out of the house, locking the front door behind them. He started towards the Prius parked in the driveway, its silver exterior glinting in the rays of the overhead light. Rhys glanced down at the flowers and herbs growing in the beds next to the porch, then around at the neat little cottages surrounding the one they were standing in front of. He squinted.
“Where are we?”“Germantown, dontcha know,” Joe answered without hesitation, unlocking the Prius with a chirp. He got in, and Rhys slowly followed suit.
“How far out from downtown are we?” he asked, as Joe started the car. Joe pulled his phone out of the chest pocket of his nightshirt, opening his Maps app.
“About twenty minutes,” he answered, glancing up at Rhys expectantly. Rhys realized he was waiting for an address.
“Oh, uh - 3145 South Fourth Street.”
Joe typed it into the search bar, pulling up the directions before putting the car in reverse. They backed out of the driveway smoothly, and then they were on their way.