Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
Joe dropped him off in front of the Tymberwood Flanks apartment building, and Rhys waited until he had driven off before bounding towards the fire escape. With running momentum he leapt upward, grabbing the bottom-most rung and using it to haul the ladder to the ground. He was even quicker, cat-like almost, as he climbed up the ladder with practised ease, making it to the landing just as the ladder swung back into place. He took the grated steps two at a time until he reached the fourth floor. He slipped two fingers into the gap between the window edge and the window sill, pushing upward and jiggling it slightly back and forth; after a moment of resistance, the window gave way, shuddering open quietly.
Rhys slipped inside, silent and nimble. He could tell from the quietness of the apartment - but the cozy, homey feeling that meant his brother was there - that Ethan was asleep. He felt himself physically relax upon this realization, tension melting from his shoulders, his body falling back into its inebriated stupor; tiredly, he dug the weed out of the jacket and stuffed it under the floorboard beneath his desk. Tomorrow, he would portion it for selling before school. Tonight, however, he was done for; he didn’t even bother undressing as he fell into bed, hugging his pillow beneath his head. He was asleep in seconds. His dreams were a haze, as always, full of running, and the ground was squashed tomatoes.
When Rhys woke up again, his head was pounding, his phone alarm was blaring, and the homey feeling had gone, leaving the air full of lingering coldness, a distinct emptiness echoing throughout the apartment. He sat up, resentful of the sun rays beaming in through the slats of his window blinds. He pulled open the top drawer of his bedside stand, reaching in to flip open his mother’s siddur and digging out the baggie of pills within its hollowed interior. He opened the baggie and popped a few of the small, round pills into his mouth, letting them dissolve on his tongue for just a second or two before swallowing them dry. Satisfied that the hangover would dissipate within a few minutes, he pulled off his shirt and jeans, leaving himself in his boxers as he stood up and got to work.
He pulled the half pound of weed out from under the floorboard and set it on his desk, rolling up his desk chair and pulling the scale and the box of ziploc baggies towards him. Even though he had only sold a few times, he had a pretty decent, albeit old-school system; dime bags and dub sacks - that is, a gram of weed for ten dollars or two and a half grams for twenty, respectively. This made dealing in the hallways discreet and easy - no need to arrange meetups or sell from home. Besides, the preps at Okolona High never tended to buy more than two dub sacks at a time, and that was on a good day.
After a minute or so of working in silence - pulling buds from the big bag, weighing them out, then re-bagging them in the small portion baggies - he lit a cigarette and then got up to search for his phone, finding it in the pocket of his jeans. He stood there for a moment in the middle of his room, feet itchy against the black shag rug, in his boxer briefs with a cigarette dangling between his fingers, as he scrolled on his phone in search of the right music. He smirked, finding his choice, and selected it with a tap of his thumb. Igor Stravinsky’s Scherzo à la russe began to play. With the opiate euphoria starting to drip its way into his veins, he sat down again, his brain starting to buzz as he got back to what he was doing. The clock standing guard at the corner of his desk informed him it was almost six thirty am. Hannah would be there soon; they would walk together to school, as they had every day since the start of eighth grade year. Rhys was reminded of them being seniors next year; how was it already October?
By the time he finished divvying up the weed, leaving a little bit leftover for himself, it was seven; he had just enough time to grind a bud or two and pack a bowl to smoke with Hannah when she got there. He pulled a rather decent sized bud from the product leftover in the large bag, pulling it apart and stuffing the bits into the teeth of his grinder. When that was done, he pushed down on it with the lid, grinding it back and forth. He had just finished packing the ground weed into the bowl when he heard the apartment’s front door open and close, Hannah’s sing-song voice drifting down the hallway.
He put his mouth on the open end of the bong, lighting the edge of the bowl and spinning to face her as she came in. He inhaled harshly, sucking in until he could feel the fullness of his lungs; she arched an eyebrow, and he exhaled a large cloud of smoke at her, smirking.
“Glad to see you survived last night.” She threw her backpack onto his bed, peeling off her jacket and taking the bong as he passed it to her. She sat on the edge of the bed, feet resting on the frame, and took her hit as Rhys spoke.
“Yeah, more or less. You get home okay?”
She nodded, exhaling smoke slowly and scratching her nose. “Crashed at my uncle’s place ‘cause it was closer.”
He took the bong. “Smart.”
He took his hit and passed the bong back, getting to his feet and stepping through the smoky room to his bedside stand again. While up, he pulled on his jeans; buttoning them, but leaving the belt undone for now, he reached into the top drawer again, retrieving the pills. She watched him swallow a few before returning the baggie to its home, shutting the drawer again, turning to face her and take the bong once more.
Her eyes remained on him as he took his hit; he passed it back, exhaling smoke; and then continued getting ready. He plucked a shirt from a hanger in his closet and tugged it on over his head without looking at it; moused his shaggy curls; then picked his glove up off of the nightstand, sliding it on over his right hand, pretending he didn’t feel Hannah’s eyes staring at the welted flesh. He fastened the glove into place, looking up at her expectantly.
The clock read seven twenty. Hannah finished the bowl, set the bong on the desk, and collected her things. Rhys pulled on the drug rug laying on his bed; picked his backpack up off the floor and shouldered it, waiting for her to exit the room first before following her and shutting the door behind them. He checked his pocket for his house key - something he barely remembered to do, as evident by last night’s use of the fire escape - then walked to the kitchen as Hannah headed for the front door. He grabbed a can of Dr. Pepper for them both from the fridge, handing one to her as they left the apartment. He realized as he locked the door behind them that he had forgotten to read the note Ethan had left on the table. That wasn’t going to go well later. He tried to push that thought out of his mind as he followed Hannah down the hallway to the elevator, watching her gently push the button to call the lift. The humming intensified to a loud whirring, until a minute or so later the overhead dinged and the doors rumbled open. They stepped on, joining the elderly man from the seventh floor and the asshole from the ninth. They found a temporary home in the back right corner, leaning against the wall as they watched the numbers above the door go down. The elevator always smelled weird, like cleaning chemicals but something else, a hint of pot - usually the aforementioned protagonists’ doing - and a mixture of various perfume, and an undertone of trash, thanks to the douchebags who were too lazy to use the stairs when they took their trash out. Rhys willed the elevator to go faster - the asshole from ninth was giving him weird, aggressive looks. He prayed they wouldn’t have to stop at the second floor - and thanks to whatevergod, they didn’t. Finally, the tin box reached the first floor, and the doors, after a moment, rumbled open. Rhys grabbed Hannah’s arm, signaling that they should hang back until everyone else had gone. Old man from seventh ambled out; the asshole from ninth lingered, scrolling on his phone, doing something; he threw one last dirty glance at Rhys, then left. Rhys led Hannah out of the elevator.
“What was that about?” Hannah asked, following him through the ornate lobby. It was really overdone, to be honest, for what the apartment building actually was - the chandelier dangling from the center of the ceiling served as a questionably effective facade of elegance, despite the squat, historic nature of the twelve-story complex. It was old, to be frank, and no amount of painting or remodeling would change that, would cease the creaking of the floorboards, or the rattling of the windows, or the leak in the basement. Still, Rhys thought, it was a nice thought.
“Asshole from ninth was being weird,” he muttered under his breath, shoving open the door leading to the outside. He squinted against the daylight, and felt like he was finding himself in a bizarre, alternate world.