Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this."
Leah and Rhys sat in the Subaru in the back corner of the parking lot of Birdsboro's first ever library, which was now abandoned and decrepit.
Rhys grinned at her, taking a drag off his cigarette. They had just gotten milkshakes from Two Wolves, their cups cold and sticky in the cupholders of the console between them as they eyed their target. A Walmart bag full of cans of spray paint lay in the floorboard next to Rhys’ feet.
The library was a large, grand building, with towering columns and an impressive, Zappeion-like facade. Leah opened her car door, getting out of the Subaru and leading Rhys inside.
They carefully opened the front door, making sure not to let it slam behind them as they walked inside. The old wooden bookshelves were starting to rot and crumble, and the floor was covered in old decaying books and ripped out pages, as well as trash - empty cigarette packs, broken liquor bottles, an occasional bra or used condom - from various parties over the years. The cans of spray paint rattled against one another in the bag in Rhys' hand as they made their way up the grand, winding staircase to the second floor.
Rhys glanced around once they reached the second floor, while Leah sat on the floor itself and unshouldered her large backpack. Out of the bag she began to pull several things: a handheld camera, a thermal camera, what looked like a small radio, a device Rhys didn't recognize, and an audio recorder. Rhys arched an eyebrow at her.
"Ghosts," she replied simply, not looking up from the device she was fiddling with. "This is an EMF detector, telling us there's high readings in this area."
"Ghosts?" Rhys replied skeptically, setting the bag of spray paint cans down and opening it up to pick a color.
"C'mon, mate, you've had to have heard the stories 'bout this place."
Rhys stared at her, shaking the can of spray paint in his hand. He had chosen robin egg blue. "You can't seriously believe in that bullshit?"
Leah met his gaze evenly as she flipped on the audio recorder. "It's not about believing. It's about knowing." She glanced around the room at large. "Is there anybody here with us? That's Rhys, I'm Leah. We're just here to talk."
The air in the room shifted, a distinct chill settling over them. Rhys thought he heard a whisper, but quickly shrugged it off, chiding himself. It was just his imagination. He went to the nearest patch of empty wall and began to paint a new piece. Leah sat on the ground, tinkering with her toys.
“So,” Rhys said casually as he sprayed, “what stories? It’s a library, can’t be too exciting.”
“Well you gotta know about the flood in ‘98,” Leah said softly, still fiddling with the radio. “And then, in ‘02, that mass shooting. They say the shooter - you know, he killed himself on this floor - they say he still haunts the building.”
Rhys felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up and squinted at her. "Yeah, whatever."
"Don't believe me then," Leah shrugged nonchalantly, watching him go back to spray painting the wall. A few minutes of silence passed. "So, have you thought anymore about a sponsor?"
Rhys didn't look at her. "I thought we said you would be my sponsor."
Leah stared at him, sighing. "It's not that simple, mate."
"Why isn't it?" Rhys sighed in exasperation. "Why is everything so goddamn complicated?"
"Because I don't know if I'm fit to be a sponsor!" Leah snapped, glaring at him. She cooled almost instantly. "Besides, it's a little..fucky. I mean, you're my boyfriend's little brother, so that's already a questionable relationship. A sponsorship is supposed to be...professional, almost."
"We're friends," Rhys argued, adding a flourish of spray paint and stepping back to admire his work so far.
"Sponsorship isn't friendship," Leah replied. "I can't be your friend and call you out on all your deep-rooted bullshit at the same time."
"You do that anyway."
Leah was about to reply when a loud pounding noise downstairs made them both go still, eyes wide as they stared at each other. Leah mouthed, "ghosts?"
"Cops!" Rhys hissed, grabbing her by the hand and pulling her to her feet. They ran to hide behind the decaying bookshelves as they heard heavy boots ascending the stairs.
"Kids," Rhys heard one of the officers say, followed by the sound of the spray paint cans being kicked. "Fucking taggers."
Rhys scowled to himself. He was an artist, thank you very much.
He and Leah ducked lower, creeping closer to the corner and praying that the cops wouldn't come any nearer. One of the officers chuckled at unheard joke; the room was quiet for a moment, and then the sound of heavy boots descending the stairs. Rhys let out the breath he was holding. Leah burst into giggles.
"Dude!" Rhys hissed, but grinned at her anyway. His heartbeat was racing, almost as if he had just shot up. He felt alive, and goodly so. They waited until the coast was clear before leaving.
"You sober yet?"
Ethan shifted his glance upward to Lip and made a noncommittal hum. "If it gets me another beer, then yes."
"No more drinking," Lip took a seat in the lawn chair beside him. "I never pegged you as a drinker, anyway."
Ethan made another noise and turned his head away, staring at the grass without saying anything. His hand felt empty without a bottle in it, but the buzz still lingering helped erase all the bullshit in his life at the current moment. Leah, Rhys, his job at the diner...all of it numbed, lesser pains, less stress. He felt practically fused to the lawn chair he was sitting in.
Lip, at least, seemed sober now, staring at the baseball cap in his hands as he twirled it. "How long have you had a problem?"
Ethan side-eyed him, scowling a bit. Lip arched an eyebrow at him.
"I'm best friends with your brother, dude, I know what an alcoholic looks like."
Ethan shifted in his seat uncomfortably, eyes glazing over. "It was real bad, the first few months after the Bitch left. When Rhys got kicked out of school, I had to clean myself up. Had to do better, for him. But those first few months, after what I saw...knowing what she had been doing...it still makes me sick, man. I was drinking to try to forget, to try to forget how much I hurt him by not knowing, not seeing the signs..." he trailed off, tilting his head upwards to watch the stars come out.
"The signs of what?" Lip asked eventually, watching him. Ethan's eyes watered.
"She was raping him, man. Her and her shitty boyfriend both. Must've been drugging him or something, 'cuz he never remembered...or at least, I don't think he does. Told me that she'd been doing it since he was little, that he..." Ethan's hand fisted and unfisted, voice straining. "That he liked it. That sick fuck. I fucking hate her."
Lip stared at him, then got up and walked towards the fire. He returned with two beers, one of which he handed to Ethan. Ethan opened it and took a drink, staring up at the stars again.
Lip was quiet for a moment, sipping on his beer. "That's rough, buddy."
Ethan sniffled, now unbearably sad. He was failing Rhys in so many ways, and it was showing; from his little brother getting kicked out of high school to the shitshow at the art gallery. But, he thought to himself with a small smile, Rhys was going to meetings now, starting to spend longer stretches of time clean. He admired the irony as he took a drink of his beer. Just for tonight.